An analysis of marijuana sales in California in early 2022 revealed that total tax revenues from cannabis sales in the Golden State were approaching $4 billion. Halfway across the country, in New Jersey, the state took in some $24 million in the first month of its legal recreational sales. It is hard to read these numbers and not wonder how big a role money plays in marijuana legalization.
It was only about twenty years ago that California and Oregon were beating their collective heads against the wall trying to get the rest of the country to warm up to marijuana. How times have changed. There are now more than three dozen states with legalized medical cannabis and another eighteen that have given the green light to recreational use. In every case, the tax revenues are rolling in.
The Bottle Is Stopped Up
If legalizing marijuana were letting a genie out of the bottle, we would have to concede that the bottle has been stopped up. Even if California wanted to put the kibosh on marijuana sales, there is no way state lawmakers could give up tens of millions of dollars in annual revenues. That much money pays for a lot of political favors.
The same goes for New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Oregon, and on and on. But why stop there? Even medical-only states are reaping windfall revenues from medical cannabis sales. After all, taxes make the political world go around. Why legalize cannabis if you are not going to get some money out of it?
In Utah, companies like the Deseret Wellness pharmacy in Park City hear complaints every day about how high prices are. There is little they can do about it. Limited supply favors growers and processors. But then add taxes and license fees and customers pay even more.
There Is Precedent for Suspicion
We would like to give state lawmakers the benefit of the doubt and assume they approve marijuana legalization because they believe it is in the best interests of the people. But still, there is always suspicion. There is precedent for that suspicion, too.
It used to be that Las Vegas and New Jersey were the only two states that allowed casino gambling. They aren’t any longer. A number of states have legalized casino gambling in recent years because the tax revenues were too lucrative to give up. Lawmakers threw in the towel on something they long stood against because state coffers were running low.
Perhaps there has been some genuine interest in legalizing medical cannabis based on decent human compassion. Maybe a small number of lawmakers have honestly felt compelled to go along with legalization because they personally know patients who could benefit from it. But that does not explain why so many states have legalized recreational use.
Get a Foot in the Door
While we are on the medical topic, it’s interesting to note how many states with recreational programs started with medical cannabis. It is always the same story. Proponents claim that the compassionate thing to do is legalize medical cannabis for the sake of suffering patients. But no sooner does medical legalization go through then they start working on recreational consumption.
It is hard to see what has gone on with marijuana and not be a bit cynical. It just seems like the whole thing has been dishonest from the start. But when you want to fundamentally change the way society views something like marijuana, that’s how you need to go about it. And in this case, one cannot help but believe that money has had a lot to do with it.