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Geoffrey Lawrence: Legalizing marijuana would bring reform, boost NC budget

The coronavirus pandemic and economic shutdowns have reduced economic activity and caused massive unemployment, prompting a collapse of tax revenue for state and local governments. Like many states, North Carolina’s state budget outlook has quickly deteriorated.

In the month of April alone, North Carolina collected $1.2 billion less in taxes than it had predicted. At this point, the state is already reducing its revenue projections for next fiscal year by $2.5 billion — and this estimate might be optimistic as it is unclear how long the pandemic will remain at current levels or how many businesses may be forced to permanently close their doors. Local governments across the state face similar problems.

Here’s an idea that should now merit serious consideration as a possible bipartisan solution to generate new revenue: Legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana.

Eleven states have already done it. While this idea may not have sounded feasible to North Carolina a few months ago, it should carry new weight now as the state seeks to fill significant funding holes that may remain for years to come. Marijuana legalization not only presents the opportunity to generate additional state and local revenue, but also address much-needed criminal justice reform in the state. Black Lives Matter protests have recently raised important issues of police brutality, and states are now confronting the systemic racism of the criminal justice system and the war on drugs.

North Carolina recently provided a vivid example: In Wilmington, three police officers were fired after a video showed them making racist comments. One officer said, “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering them (expletive) (n-words)” and “wipe ’em off the (expletive) map.”

For decades, the drug war has played a prominent role in rogue police officers stopping, harassing and abusing people of color. Black Americans have historically been arrested for marijuana possession at much higher rates than white Americans. And these numbers can’t be fully explained by differences in use rates.

The drug war was conceived for the express purpose of harassing racial minorities, and that’s how it has been used. Ending it would be among the most important criminal justice reforms available.

North Carolina could follow other states’ lead by going even further to expunge the criminal records of individuals who have been arrested for possessing amounts of marijuana reflecting personal use. These records make it difficult for an individual to obtain employment, get a degree or access a business loan. Carrying the stigma of a marijuana conviction can make it more difficult to engage in socially productive behaviors.

Conservatives who have historically opposed marijuana legalization should reconsider that position. The 11 states that have already legalized, plus 33 states with medical marijuana programs, have shown they can tightly control and regulate marijuana inventory — as they do with alcohol. These states, which span the political spectrum, have not seen an increase in youth use and have been able to, at least partially, displace black-market actors.

Conservatives intuitively understand that black markets are dangerous, but they emerge whenever legitimate retailers are not able to sell legal goods. The same arguments conservatives tend to make against gun control are equally applicable to marijuana prohibition.

Amidst the recession and pandemic, Gov. Roy Cooper and the Republican-controlled legislature are going to need to negotiate a bipartisan deal to fix the state budget. They should also listen to public outcry for swift criminal justice reform. Legalizing marijuana for adult use could be an important part of the answer to both of these issues.

Geoffrey Lawrence is a senior policy fellow at Reason Foundation.

The same arguments conservatives tend to make against gun control are equally applicable to marijuana prohibition.

These states are voting on marijuana legalization in 2020

by: Nexstar Media Wire

Posted: Oct 14, 2020 / 11:55 AM EDT / Updated: Oct 14, 2020 / 11:55 AM EDT

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — As voters head to the polls to select the next president, residents of five states will decide whether to legalize medical or recreational marijuana.

Right now, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis, according to CNN. 11 of those states have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

In 2016, pot measures passed in eight out of nine states where it was on the ballot.

Here’s a look at the states where voters will decide the future of pot:

Arizona

A proposition on the ballot would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults who are 21 or older. People would be permitted to grow six marijuana plants at their home as long as the plants aren’t in public view.

The Arizona Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating marijuana facilities and stores.

Four years ago, voters narrowly rejected a measure to legalize recreational marijuana.

Mississippi

There are two measures on the ballot in Mississippi that aim to legalize pot for medical purposes.

Initiative 65 would make medical marijuana available for people with very specific qualifying conditions, according to WJTV. Patients could possess up to 2.5 ounces of medical marijuana at one time. The initiative also sets a state tax rate.

Initiative 65A does not specify qualifying conditions or possession limits. Regulations would need to be set by state lawmakers.

Montana

The state will see two marijuana initiatives on the November ballot.

CI-118 or “Allow for a Legal Age for Marijuana Amendment” would make 21 the legal age to purchase cannabis for recreational use.

Ballot issue 190 would largely accomplish the same thing with additional regulations. According to Ballotpedia, the measure would legalize the possession and use of one ounce or less or 8 grams or less of marijuana concentrate by people at least 21. It also puts a 20% tax on legalized marijuana that would flow into the state’s general fund.

New Jersey

Question No. 1 on the ballot would make pot legal for adults 21 and older. Medical marijuana is already legal in New Jersey, and the group that oversees the regulation of medicinal cannabis would also regulate recreational pot.

The constitutional amendment would take effect on January 1 and would make Jersey the first state in the Mid-Atlantic to legalize marijuana, according to Ballotpedia.

Because of the economic impact expected to be brought in by residents of neighboring states, it’s believed passage in New Jersey could put pressure on other states in the region to pass similar measures.

South Dakota

The state will be voting on both medicinal and recreational marijuana during the general election.

Amendment A would legalize recreational cannabis for anyone 21 or older, according to KELO-TV. The measure would also require state lawmakers to pass laws that create a medical marijuana program by early 2022.

Measure 26 would only allow for the sale of medical marijuana to people with “debilitating medical conditions.” Patients cleared for the program could possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana and grow plants in their homes.

BDS Analytics, a industry intelligence firm, reports the marijuana business in the United States could top $30 billion before the next presidential election.

As voters head to the polls to select the next U.S. president, residents of five states will decide in November whether to legalize medical or recreational marijuana.