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Unconventional budgeting

The many benefits of ending the war on drugs

Maryland’s recent decriminalization did not benefit the state much — regulating and legalizing is exactly what Maryland needs.

The long and unjustified fight against the legalization of marijuana has been going on for too long. On February 13, the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015 was introduced to the Maryland General Assembly, under the sponsorship of Delegate Curt Anderson.

This bill will essentially regulate recreational marijuana like alcohol, most importantly create jobs, and alleviate the state’s budget deficit. With an expected budget deficit of $600 million for this fiscal year, in addition to the inherited $300 million from last year, according to WBAL, Maryland needs change.

One of the significant effects of the deficit is budget cuts, specifically to the University System of Maryland. Budget cuts have resulted in a substantial increase in tuition for UMBC students. This increase could be the equivalent cost, if not more, of a semesters’ worth of textbooks or online programs.

Students who are paying thousands to receive a higher level of education are burdened with a variety of potentially avoidable issues. The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland’s Public Policy Director Sara Love said, “now, our state has the opportunity to move beyond the tragic costs of the counterproductive ‘war on drugs’ and toward increased revenue that can be used to support policies that strengthen communities.”

This bill has the potential to catalyze the already dropping unemployment rate by creating many new job positions in the new industry. Many new regulations will also be placed on the industry, which could reduce the ability for minors to obtain the drug. It seems like a much safer alternative when compared to the existing condition of the substance: anyone can able to obtain the substance, because it is in its own way unregulated.

Maryland spent $106 million enforcing marijuana prohibition laws in 2010 alone, according to the ACLU of Maryland. That’s millions of dollars that, should this bill be legalized, could be spent towards many beneficial services. Services such as healthcare, education or public transportation. Maryland would benefit from less court traffic and a better use of time for law enforcement officers.

It will certainly, at the very least, supplement job market with new openings and generate tax revenue. According to the ACLU of Maryland, the fiscal note for similar legislation proposed in 2014 estimated about $95.6 million per year in revenue from the $50/ounce excise taxes and about $39 million in new revenue from sales taxes. Revenue like that can’t be ignored.

“The Colorado experiment showed us that just one year of marijuana sales can bring in over $60 million in revenue for the government. … Colorado is making so much money they might actually be constitutionally mandated to rebate some of the money,” said Brian Ephsteyn, a recent UMBC graduate with a degree in political science.

There is no reason for Maryland to ignore this opportunity. “I think education is far too important of an investment to be cutting. … I think that legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is an opportunity Maryland cannot forgo,” Ephsteyn exclaimed. We can only hope that Maryland goes in the right direction with this bill.

Photo by Dorothy Joseph via her website.