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OPINION

Mangino: Recreational marijuana coming soon to a state near you

Mark Mangino
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There is a “green wave” sweeping the country. Ballot initiatives in Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana are seeking to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

Don’t be fooled, the green does not represent marijuana - it represents money. More and more states are legalizing marijuana, not because there has been a massive shift in public sentiment on marijuana use, but because states can raise revenue from marijuana sales.

Ever since Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve marijuana legalization in 2012, nine states and three territories have joined them including Alaska, California, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, the Mariana Islands and Guam. Another 16 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands have decriminalized marijuana and 33 states allow medical marijuana use.

It was not long ago that gambling was illegal everywhere outside of Nevada. Today, you can bet inside some ballparks while games are in progress - try justifying that to Pete Rose or the descendants of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Why? States have made about $1.8 trillion in tax revenue from gambling.

How much tax revenue can marijuana generate?

Legalizing marijuana nationwide would create at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across the United States in the next decade, according to a new study by New Frontier Data. The marijuana industry could create an entirely new tax revenue stream for the government, generating millions of dollars in sales tax and payroll deductions.

The analysis shows, according to the Washington Post, that if marijuana were fully legal in all 50 states, it would create at least a combined $131.8 billion in federal tax revenue through 2025.

What is on the ballot for Nov. 3?

In New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy made a campaign promise to legalize marijuana suggesting that legislation could generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue.

New Jersey’s Public Question No. 1 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The sale of recreational marijuana products would be subject to the state’s 6.2% sales tax.

New Jersey first legalized medical marijuana and is now taking on recreational marijuana. South Dakota is going straight to recreational marijuana.

Measure 26 would establish a medical marijuana program and registration system for people with qualifying conditions, as well as on Amendment A, which would legalize marijuana for all adults. According to the Argus Leader a majority of South Dakotans support the measure.

In Arizona, where four years ago residents narrowly defeated an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, the issue is back on the ballot.

Proposition 207 is structured similarly to 2016′s measure. It would allow adults to possess, consume or transfer up to 1 ounce of marijuana and create a regulatory system for the products’ cultivation and sale.

According to CNN, recreational sales in Arizona could total more than $700 million by 2024.

In Montana policymakers expect recreational marijuana sales to total nearly $193 million by 2025, generating $38.5 million in tax revenue.

According to the Billings Gazette, there are two measures on Montana’s ballot. First, the state is asking voters to amend the state constitution to authorize a minimum age for alcohol and marijuana purchases, and second, to allow adults in the state to possess, buy and use marijuana for recreation.

Some proponents of criminal justice reform suggest that legalizing marijuana will have a positive impact on racial justice initiatives.

“Cannabis criminalization is a cornerstone of the war on drugs,” Jared Moffat of the Marijuana Policy Project, told The Appeal.

According to the Pew Research Center, 40% of all drug arrests in 2018 were marijuana-related. The overwhelming majority were for possession, as opposed to sale or manufacture.

Legalizing marijuana will have a two-fold effect - pump new revenue into state and local economies and reduce the inequity of racially disparate mass incarceration and the residual ill effects of having a criminal conviction.

Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.