When it comes to cannabis legalization, all of the states that have done so to date have legalized via a citizen initiative. For people that are not familiar with how a citizen initiative works, citizens of a state can gather a certain number of valid voter signatures to place an item on the upcoming election’s ballot. Not every state has an initiative process. In addition to adult-use states, many medical cannabis states achieved reform victories via initiatives.
A conversation that I often have with fellow cannabis activists revolves around the dwindling number of states that still need to reform their cannabis laws and have an initiative process. Many states that are left do not have an initiative process, which means the only way to legalize in those states is via legislative action. As you can imagine, some state legislatures are more favorable than others (and that is putting it lightly).
One state that has been on my radar, and the radar of most other activists, for a legislative legalization victory is Rhode Island. Rhode Island has sympathetic lawmakers when it comes to legalization, with a strong push being made in the last session. The push was ultimately unsuccessful, but one has to assume that the battle will continue. Rhode Island’s Governor, Gina Raimondo, made comments about legalization in an interview that was published by the Providence Journal yesterday (as featured in the Marijuana Moment newsletter). Below is an excerpt from the interview (which can be read in its entirety at this link here):
“I am not opposed on some principle,″ she said. “I think we’ll probably get there. It seems to be the way the country is going.”
But “I am not in a rush. … This issue, I do think, needs to be studied. … It’s complicated. It’s expensive.”
“Everyone seems to think there’s a ton of money in this. That is not the case. … Talk to the governor of Colorado. He says, the revenue is a drop in the bucket. … It costs money to regulate it.″
I was happy to read that the Governor does not oppose cannabis, and that she thinks that Rhode Island will eventually get there. However, I was not happy to read that she wants to drag her feet on the process. Her comments that cannabis legalization is expensive and that Colorado’s cannabis revenues are a ‘drop in the bucket’ was disheartening to read. Those comments instantly brought the words of reefer madness supporter Kevin Sabet into my brain, who claimed leading up to legalization in Colorado that the ‘social costs’ would be ten times as much as the revenues generated for the state of Colorado from legalized cannabis. That claim of course proved to be false.
In looking at Colorado cannabis revenue data, Colorado generated almost 200 million dollars in 2016 from taxes, licenses, and fees from the cannabis industry. This year that number will easily top the 200 million dollar mark. The figure has been rising ever since Colorado started tracking and releasing the data in 2014. According to New Frontier data, states will collect over 655 million in taxes on retail sales alone in 2017. With states like Massachusetts and California coming online next year, that number is going to balloon in the near future.
Will cannabis revenues fix every state’s budget problems? No. But can the revenues help plug holes in state budgets, considering that Colorado alone is going to generate well over 200 million dollars from the cannabis industry in just one year? Absolutely. How many school supplies does 200 million dollars buy? How many homeless people can be helped for that amount of money? In Oregon, where a big chunk of cannabis revenues goes towards law enforcement budgets, every dollar helps cops go after real criminals. That’s much more than a drop in the bucket when you look at it that way, especially considering the job creation and saved tax dollars from no longer enforcing a failed public policy that also comes with legalization. Rhode Island’s Governor needs to get on board and push for legalization sooner rather than later, preferably in the next legislative session!