Unemployment, recession, depression, budget deficit, tax increases, entitlement cuts — these are just a few of the words being tossed around in reference to the economic environment we are currently experiencing.

Legalize pot to save economy

Unemployment, recession, depression, budget deficit, tax increases, entitlement cuts — these are just a few of the words being tossed around in reference to the economic environment we are currently experiencing.

In November 2010, the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that California had a $25 billion deficit. Six billion dollars of that deficit will carry over into 2011 from 2010 combined with a $19 billion shortfall in tax revenue versus spending for 2011. Currently, California has a higher unemployment rate than much of the country. The Employment Development Department of California reports unemployment at 11.9 percent versus a national average of 9.1 percent.

Isn’t it time to look into unconventional alternatives to solve this growing problem?

According to the State Board of Equalization, it is estimated that the state would see $1.4 billion in tax revenue and reduced enforcement cost through the legalization of marijuana.

This may not completely fix our enormous deficit, but it is absolutely an untapped, very attainable resource. With another potential 12 to 18 billion dollars in peripheral benefits associated with other businesses such as hemp production, tourism brought by Amsterdam-type coffee houses, etc., as well as  an increase in employment the new industry would create, it is likely that the legalization of marijuana will have an even bigger impact than projected.

Consider: the expenditures spent to prohibit marijuana are huge. According to The Budgetary Implications of Drug Prohibition by Jeffrey A. Miron of Harvard College, California spends $1.87 billion on criminal justice resources that enforce laws prohibiting marijuana production, distribution, and use. The Marijuana Policy Project states that the simple decriminalization of medical marijuana in California has already saved this state $100 million in enforcement costs.

Why are we continuing to look past what seem to be the most obvious solutions to California’s growing deficit?

It is naïve to believe that if we just increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy, they are going to stick around to foot the bill. California has lost business after business both overseas and to other states because of friendlier tax programs. Growing, selling and taxing our own marijuana would produce new jobs, more money, less criminals and new industries.

Similar to the days of Prohibition, marijuana production and distribution isn’t something the state or even federal government is able to control. Instead of trying to prevent the inevitable, maybe we should, instead, reap the benefits.

According to the Time magazine article “Can Marijuana Help Rescue California’s Economy” by Allison Stateman, marijuana production is the most profitable “cash crop” in the state, producing $14 billion a year, trumping milk and dairy with revenues of only $7.3 billion per year.

I do not use marijuana, but I do pay taxes and care very much about the future of our state. Legalizing marijuana doesn’t mean we have to use it or condone using it. Similarly, alcohol production and consumption is legal, but that doesn’t mean it is condoned by all California residents.

At this point, marijuana is here to stay. We can choose to continue to fight a battle we will never win, squandering billions in state resources, or we can choose to legalize a product already embedded in our society and help end our state’s financial crisis.