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Editorial: Time for some pot sanity

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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In January, State Budget Solutions, a nonprofit organization, released a report that showed that the state of Iowa has a debt of more than $37 billion. This burden is not surprising — most states have been struggling to get their financial houses under control. What could possibly serve to ease the pain? Marijuana.

A new national report estimates that if Iowa legalized marijuana, the result would be an influx of more than $24 million in tax revenues for the state. The report assumes a 15 percent excise tax on cannabis sales, the same as Colorado. The tax has been effective in Colorado; this year, marijuana will result in an expected $60 million to $70 million in tax revenues.

Washington and Colorado are the two states in the country so far to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.

Colorado’s Marijuana Enforcement Division released a report in July indicating that despite the fear of marijuana’s exploding prevalence, its legalization has had very little effect on its consumption. In fact, 12 percent of those 21 years or older reported to smoking in the last year in Colorado as opposed to the national average of 16 percent. That indicates that the number of users in a state in which people can walk buy it legally is even lower than the average nationally.

The report confirms that marijuana has become so easily available across the country, whether people buy it legally or not has very little effect on people’s willingness to consume.

Iowa is also below the national average in terms of adults who have smoked marijuana. The national average for adults 25 or older who say they have smoked marijuana is 5 percent. In Iowa, it’s 4 percent. This indicates that even if the substance were to be legalized for recreational purposes, there would be less interest in smoking it compared with other states.

Very few people try to argue that marijuana is harmless. The smoke damages lungs and contains carcinogens, and its long-term effects on the brain are somewhat nebulous. But in a society in which cigarettes and alcohol are legal for adults, should marijuana continue to be excluded? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that alcohol kills about 41,000 people a year and contributes to approximately 1 million violent crimes per year. At the same time, tobacco use is the cause of more than 5 million deaths per year globally. On the other hand, fatalities caused from marijuana alone are almost nonexistent.

Legalizing marijuana allows the police to focus on serious crimes. It is very difficult to calculate the exact amount of savings police departments will experience. However, the estimate for Colorado’s law enforcement is $12 million to $60 million. Regardless of the exact dollar amount Iowa would save, it would nonetheless give law enforcement a greater capacity to protect and serve.

The Daily Iowan Editorial Board believes that the time has come for Iowa to rethink recreational-marijuana laws, especially after the state enacted its first medical-marijuana law this year. Colorado and Washington serve as examples that legalization does not have the dramatic effects that many have feared. Marijuana is still potentially dangerous, but it is ultimately safer than many of the drugs our society allows us to purchase. And from a financial standpoint, the state cannot afford to miss out on the extra revenues. Iowa should follow this logic and be a leader in drug-law reform in the country.


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