New revenue from legal marijuana won’t offset law enforcement costs
There was an interesting submission this week in the “You Said It” column in The Daily Sentinel.
It said, “I am on my way to Denver to purchase marijuana. I will spend two days at a motel (I will be too stoned to drive back the same day). While in Denver I will take advantage of all the amenities they have to offer: restaurants, malls, gun shops and movie theaters. I will have a great time spending my money in a town I don’t reside in. Think about this, Grand Junction, Delta and Montrose.”
Clearly, the author believes there is some Neanderthal-type thinking going on here, and he has delivered a fantastic economic argument he believes will cause Western Slope business people to slam their palms into their foreheads and say, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Let me change this a bit to see if I can put his point into a more familiar scenario:
“Dear Grand Junction and the surrounding area, I’m going to Denver on a two-day binge drunk. During that time, I plan on wandering aimlessly around the area looking, acting and most assuredly smelling heavily of alcohol. I’ll be visiting many people’s businesses and interacting with their customers in such a state. Don’t you wish I’d stayed home and done that in your business?”
I’m not a mind reader here, but I’m willing to suggest the answer in a lot of people’s minds, both business owners and customers, is that somewhere else would be just fine.
Just because something is now legal doesn’t mean a lot of people want to be around it or see it. They sell spandex bike shorts in some enormous sizes, but that doesn’t mean a lot of people want to see them on the road.
Suggesting there’s a lot of money to be made by becoming some sort of narco-tourist enclave ignores the fact that a sizable majority of the population doesn’t want to be around people in such a state.
I also may be a bit old-fashioned here, but I’m not crazy about people being stoned or drunk and hanging around guns, dynamite, cars or the ledges of tall buildings.
It seems many people in the pro-legalization movement are disappointed that the use of recreational marijuana isn’t as accepted as having an Appletini at your local bistro.
Maybe someday it will be, but in the meantime, we continue to decide whether the costs of the legalization are worth the benefits. As I’ve discussed before, it remains to be seen how much tax revenue ultimately will be collected off state-sanctioned marijuana because the high tax will most likely maintain a black market.
What will be affected fairly quickly is the market share and profits of violent Mexican cartels that have been providing marijuana to the state for some time. With state-sanctioned drugs available, the cartels can’t help but see a drop-off in profit, and this eventually might not be too good for the state’s crime profile.
David Francis of The Fiscal Times addressed the crime factor in an article Jan. 7. “A 2012 study by the Mexican Institute of Competitivenesss says legalization in Colorado will cost cartels $1.425 billion annually, while Washington state’s legalization would cost cartels $1.372 billion. The study also found that legalization in these two states would push the cartels’ annual revenues down 20 to 30 percent.”
I’m sure we all remember how organized crime disappeared from America at the end of Prohibition. It didn’t. It diversified into other, often more-violent crimes because true criminals are nothing if not entrepreneurs.
George W. Grayson, an expert on Mexican criminal organizations, has said that cartels are diversifying their revenue streams into things like kidnapping, extortion, prostitution, methamphetamine, opioids and even such mundane things as cigarette smuggling.
Since the first of the year, Colorado has been under the microscope as to what will happen with marijuana legalization. My prediction is that drug-related crimes will not go down, they will just change character. And, although our friend from the “You Said It” submission may bemoan product availability, I anticipate there will be a correlation between the number of marijuana outlets and criminal activity, particularly burglary and robbery.
Perhaps we should offset any drug tax revenues with the cost of enhanced law enforcement. Then, let’s see if there’s any benefit.
Rick Wagner writes more on politics at his blog, the War on Wrong.