File Photo: Cannabis
Once again I have been pondering the pot problem, after reading how, in some towns in the United States, income tax from sales of legalised cannabis are filling a number of gaps for hard pressed local authorities.
The question here is, would the benefits outweigh the costs?
There are a lot of places which have 'gone to pot'.
In Ireland, pot or cannabis is, essentially, illegal, but despite plenty of attention from the law, every neighbourhood appears to have their own street corner dealer.
There is no doubt there can be disastrous side effects, for some, from taking cannabis.
In this country, too, if you buy in the illegal market, you are indirectly funding any illegal drug-related killings.
In the long run, Ireland will only properly fight the downsides of the illegal drug market by making that market unprofitable.
One way of doing this is to legalize cannabis.
I recently read of developments in the US state of Colorado, reported on by Justin Gardner of the USA Free Thought Project.
In recent years, Colorado began its first retail sales of cannabis. Towns and cities across the state began seeing upsides of this new veture.
Sales revenues have started to run into the billions and local authorities are getting tax revenues which have been funding education, recreation, infrastructure improvements, and even aid to the homeless.
One small town, Mountain View (population 523), has two pot shops. On its own website, Mountain View describes itself as a “home rule city”.
Its mayor, who initially opposed the pot revolution, said that medical and retail marijuana have “definitely” helped the town’s bottom line.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t,” he said.
There are at least 22 counties and 62 cities that now allow retail cannabis sales across the pond.
Aurora City Council has collected millions in sales taxes and fees since October 2014. It planned to use $1.5 million to address the homeless issue, $2.8 million for a recreation centre, and $3.8 million for a road project.
Another county planned to spend $500,000 on scholarships for low-income students.
Other towns filled potholes (excuse the pun) and fixed roads.
Denver city collected $29 million last year through taxes and licensing fees and uses it for regulation, enforcement, public health and education efforts.
Gardner also said there is evidence suggesting that people are giving up prescription painkillers in favor of medical cannabis.
He argued that legal cannabis sales are hurting the illegal black market. Trafficking offenses have fallen sharply.
Legalisation has meant that consumers know where their product comes from and what is in it, including the THC content.
Some have warned however that taxation should not be the main reason for legalization.
A too high tax can drive some to go back to the illegal black market.
In the USA, some states, like Oregon, do not tax medical cannabis at all.
Given the abject failure to curtail the illegal drugs market in Ireland, where not only cannabis, but many other drugs are causing some much damage directly and indirectly, is it not time for us to be more courageous and create a legal regime? The tax benefits alone could solve a lot of local infrastructural problems.