WASAVP's Jim Cooper appeared on q13FOX yesterday as part of a discussion about projected tax revenue that may be generated if Initiative 502 passes. When thinking about marijuana legalization and potential tax revenue, following are a few things to consider from a prevention perspective.
No money set aside to mitigate harm. What is not discussed when estimating revenue is that legalizing marijuana will create more harm with increased use among youth (and associated school failure), crime, DUI and dependence. There will be an increased need for intervention services in schools, local and state police, and treatment. No funding is set aside in I-502 for any of these things. Yes, there is money that will go into the general fund that could possibly fund these and a variety of public health and safety-related services but, in today's state fiscal climate, it is unlikely the amount would meet increased needs when these services are struggling to meet current needs.
No money set aside to meet increased enforcement needs. I-502 does not set aside money for an increase in Liquor Control Board enforcement activities. While there is money set aside of LCB "administration" there is no extra money to enforce regulations of this new drug market. What good are regulations if they are not enforced? As it is, LCB enforcement is not funded at levels that enable them to handle strict enforcement of liquor laws.
Initiative supporters make the assumption in their fiscal projections that persons who are not LCB licensed marijuana producers, processors, and retailers will continue to be subject to criminal prosecution under current law. Who will enforce these new laws around producing, processing, sales and possession? Who is going to do enforcement around home grow operations? Who is going to meet the need of increased enforcement around the new DUI law I-502 creates? Nowhere in the initiative or related fiscal documents is this issue considered.
Consumption estimates are likely too low. Initiative proponents are conservative in their estimates of how many people will start using marijuana if legalized. They base it on how many people are currently using it illegally. They do not take into account how many people currently do not use marijuana solely because it is illegal. They do not take into account how many youth do not use marijuana right now because it is illegal. While a significant increase in consumption may be good for revenue, it certainly is not good for public health and safety. Just like alcohol, increased consumption equals increased public health and safety harms.
Costs may outweigh benefits. I-502 includes funding for a cost-benefits analysis to be done by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy because they don’t know what costs will be associated with increased access and related harm. Multiple studies on alcohol have shown that increased access means increased harm. As a state, we already can’t handle all of the harms done by legalized alcohol.
Re-inventing a system voters disapprove of. The fiscal assumptions for I-502 are made using the old, state-run liquor control model. After I-1183 is fully implemented, there will be no state-run stores to sell marijuana. The old system will need to be re-invented. Which begs the question: If voters didn’t think the state should be in the business of selling alcohol, why should the state be in the business of selling marijuana?
Minimal criminal justice savings. Interestingly, the fiscal assumptions for I-502 also don't bring up criminal justice savings if marijuana is legalized. Why is this? Because their claim that legalizing marijuana would save money by reducing the number of people in jail is just not true. People who are in jail for drug-related offenses are not there for simple marijuana possession. They are there for other crimes that may include marijuana possession.
No guarantee of sustained funding for prevention. Though I-502 contains provisions that funnel revenue to pay for substance abuse prevention programs, there is no guarantee that this will create sustained funding for prevention. Let's remember what history has taught us. Tobacco sales revenue that was dedicated to tobacco prevention is now going into the general fund. Tobacco prevention programs are vanishing. Alcohol sales revenue that was dedicated to prevention now goes to the general fund. Don’t believe it when legalization proponents promise funding for prevention. It won’t be long before the legislature diverts these funds to the general fund.