Marijuana is an untapped resource and should be legalized in Alabama

By Reggie Pulliam
Posted 4/29/20

The year was 1933. It was a dark age with the American economy, as we were in the fourth year of a depression caused by a number of self-inflicted factors. The country was reeling from a …

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Marijuana is an untapped resource and should be legalized in Alabama

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The year was 1933. It was a dark age with the American economy, as we were in the fourth year of a depression caused by a number of self-inflicted factors. The country was reeling from a decade-plus war against alcohol, where the black market had risen as it does with any unregulated substance that is in demand. The amount of Americans who consumed alcohol had actually risen since Prohibition was passed, and there were no longer tax revenues from the sale of the swiftly passed legislation. In an act of clairvoyant thought, Americans rescinded the 18th Amendment, which allowed tax revenue to increase, and it erased the impossible task of law enforcement, which was in charge of keeping booze off the streets.

In the strange times of 2020, we find ourselves in a similar situation. We are in the throws of a man-made economic catastrophe, with unemployment rising and tax revenue decreasing. Our state will soon be faced with one of two options: raise taxes or seek a federal bailout. However, there is a third option, one that will bring Alabama new tax revenue, decrease the burden of law enforcement, create new jobs, as we have had over 300,000 Alabamans file for unemployment over the past month, and stop the ever-increasing jailed and prison population of our neighbors: we can legalize marijuana.

Since Colorado passed full legalization of marijuana in 2012, 11 other states and DC have followed suit, with the average annual tax collection per state over $100 million in 2019. 20 additional states now have medical marijuana.  Alabama depends on income, sales, and lodging taxes to fund our ever misappropriated budget, and legalizing marijuana can help stave off massive tax increases to our already strapped citizenry.

In 2016 (last year stats are available), Alabama police made over 2,300 arrests for simple marijuana possession. That was more arrests than the police made for robbery that year. What if police were not tasked with the insurmountable task of eradicating marijuana use and sale, and could devote more of those resources to fighting actual crime? Would the average Alabaman benefit? Would law enforcement benefit? Would our collective quality of life increase?

It is estimated that if all states were to legalize marijuana, we would have 1 million American jobs directly tied to the crop by 2025. In Colorado, there are over 30,000 people who have jobs in the marijuana industry, with the average hourly wage of $17/hour. Those wages not only stay in the workers community, but there are employment taxes that go to the state, which would greatly benefit every Alabaman. 

It is estimated that roughly 10% of Alabama prisoners are locked up due to non-violent drug offenses (3200 people) and that about 1.5% are there for marijuana only offenses (480 people). It costs the state upwards of $16,000 annually to house a prisoner (more than education by the way, $16,000 for each prisoner and $10,000 for each student, #priorities). Which means the cost of incarceration of every person who is either convicted or facing trial for marijuana only possession is $21,000 daily, or over $7.68 million annually.

In tumultuous times, bold leadership is needed to take courageous action, and we are now forced to either raise taxes, cut services, or seek additional tax revenue from untapped sources. The legalization of marijuana is the definition of an untapped resource in the Yellowhammer State.