Study: Pot legalization impacts hard to measure
July 22, 2010
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Legalizing marijuana in California could give local governments a revenue boost, but estimating how much is tricky because of the many unknown factors that exist, a new study found.
The report by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office concludes that conflicts between state and federal drug laws, how cities and counties will choose to tax and regulate pot and the potential for more drug abusers will affect how much cash would come from legalizing the crop.
“We do try to stress that there are a lot of uncertainties,” said Paul Golaszewski, who prepared the study. “At the same time, we’re trying to be helpful to voters. If this did occur, here’s what you might expect.”
The report analyzing Proposition 19 was published Tuesday as part of the voter guide issued by the California secretary of state’s office.
Proposition 19 supporters say legalization would be a boon for state and local coffers, but critics have argued it would increase pot usage and crime. They also dispute any positive economic effects.
The report says the ballot initiative could result in savings of several tens of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments by reducing the number of marijuana offenders in state prisons and county jails. It also says legalization could reduce the amount of money agencies spend prosecuting marijuana-related offenses.
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However, the study concludes that any monetary savings would likely be offset by spending on other prosecutions or offenders. For example, freed-up jail beds could end up going to offenders who would have been released early because of overcrowding.
Marijuana use also could rise with legalization, the study says, potentially resulting in more people seeking publicly financed drug abuse treatment.
Proposition 19 would allow those 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana – enough to roll dozens of marijuana cigarettes. Residents also could grow their own crop of the plant in gardens measuring up to 25 square feet.
The proposal would ban users from ingesting marijuana in public or smoking it while minors are present. It also would make it illegal to possess the drug on school grounds or drive while under its influence.
Local governments would decide whether to permit and tax marijuana sales.
The study says since it is unknown how many local governments would choose to license establishments to sell pot, it is difficult to know how much of a windfall to expect. Researchers also concluded the price of marijuana would likely decrease if the plant is made legal.
The report said, however, that if a commercial marijuana industry is developed in the state, hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue could eventually be collected.
California was the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana use, with voters passing it in 1996. Since then, 14 states have followed California’s lead, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Last year, federal authorities said they would no longer prosecute medical marijuana users who were complying with California law. But President Barack Obama’s drug czar has said the White House strongly opposes any efforts to legalize pot.
The legislative analyst’s study says federal enforcement would impede activities permitted by the ballot initiative, making it even harder to determine the initiative’s effect on revenues and expenditures.
A recent Field Poll found 48 percent of likely voters oppose Proposition 19 while 44 percent support it.