Colorado, Oregon, and Washington this fall could become the first states to legalize marijuana. The Associated Press says the debate over how much tax money recreational marijuana laws could produce is playing an outsize role in the campaigns for and against legalization. Both sides concede they’re not really sure what would happen. Pro-pot campaigners say it could prove a windfall for cash-strapped states with new taxes on pot and reduced criminal justice costs. State government skeptics warn legalization would lead to costly legal battles and expensive new bureaucracies to regulate pot.
Colorado’s campaign touts money for school construction. Ads promote the measure with the tag line, “Strict Regulation. Fund Education.” Washington’s campaign promises to devote more than half of marijuana taxes to substance-abuse prevention, research, education and health care. Oregon’s measure, the Cannabis Tax Act, would devote 90 percent of recreational marijuana proceeds to the state’s general fund. Oregon’s fiscal analysts haven’t even guessed at the total revenue, but have projected prison savings between $1.4 million and $2.4 million a year if marijuana use was legal without a doctor’s recommendation. There are many questions about fiscal projections. Because no state has legalized marijuana for anything but medical purposes, the actual result is anyone’s guess.