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Legal weed could mean millions for N.C. 

It's a pot of gold

The lawmakers who took over Raleigh in 2013 — the folks who want to control women's reproductive systems, mess with African Americans' voting rights, and put homer-sekshuls in their place — often seem as if they came here via a 1950s time warp. Those, um, leaders downplay their Culture Warrior stances, however, and insist that their main goal is fiscal responsibility — cutting spending, bringing in more money (you do know your state taxes are going up, right?) and encouraging entrepreneurship.

If they really mean it, they have a golden opportunity to prove that fiscal health is their main concern. In order to take advantage of that opportunity, though, they would have to abandon their Forward To The Past cultural fixations. You see, it turns out there's a surefire way to achieve most of their fiscal goals, lower state government costs, increase revenues and see a rise in entrepreneurship. It's called legalizing marijuana.

UNC economist Art Benavie, who published extensive research into the costs of the war on drugs, says that the national effort to combat the use of drugs is tantamount to throwing away $70 billion a year. James Protzman of the BlueNC website, working with Benavie's research, narrowed the focus to get an idea of the costs of the drug war for one county in North Carolina. He picked New Hanover County, where Wilmington is located. As best as Protzman could ascertain by the evidence available, more than $5 million per year is being spent in New Hanover County on the drug war. Statewide, he estimates that $400 million to $500 million per year is being spent on the same pointless, failed policies. That's plenty enough savings to let state and local governments provide better teacher salaries, stronger environmental protections, quicker transportation construction, and, as planned by Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized pot, hard-drugs education projects.

Those two states also estimate that, in addition to savings in law enforcement expenses, they will rake in revenue from new weed-only sales taxes, to the tune of tens of millions of dollars per annum. Now the attorney general of California, as part of that state's upcoming legal-pot ballot initiative, has explained how legalization would help the California economy. Here's a key excerpt from the AG's report, describing the fiscal impact on the state if the initiative is passed (italics denote our emphasis):

"Reduced costs in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders. Potential net additional tax revenues in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually related to the production and sale of marijuana, a portion of which is required to be spent on education, health care, public safety, drug abuse education and treatment, and the regulation of commercial marijuana activities."

The money-saving-and-making bug is biting in other states that are hurting in the current economy. Reports from McClatchy, Bloomberg, CNN and Huffington Post say that about 10 to 13 more states, seeing a chance to bring in new money and save law enforcement dollars, are moving toward conducting their own legalize-pot referendums.

So what would the N.C. General Assembly have to do to achieve the fiscal improvements anticipated by other states? Simple. Pass a new law that would legalize the use, growth, cultivation, possession, transportation, storage and sale of marijuana, and set up a commission "to regulate, and provide business licenses for, marijuana cultivation, sales, processing, transportation, and distribution," to quote the California ballot initiative. Sales taxes would apply, revenues would rise, the expenses of waging the drug war would drop off a cliff, and drug lords would find themselves useless remnants of a prior era.

A recent national poll by the Gallup Poll organization, hardly a liberal outfit, said that 58 percent of Americans now believe pot should be legalized. Those figures could ratchet up North Carolina lawmakers' courage — especially since, as they claim, their main concern is fiscal responsibility.

The trouble in North Carolina, of course, is that the right-wingers running Raleigh aren't so much from the libertarian wing of the GOP as they are from the odd-couple, Billionaires-and-Bibles coalition side. Face it: Lawmakers who fiddle with election rules, deliberately discriminate against gays and lesbians, and tell women what they can do with their own bodies are more interested in shoveling taxpayer money toward rich businessmen than in providing relief for what they see as social deviants.

But you know what they say about a blind pig finding an acorn now and then. At some point, one of the state government's Goober Elite may see a news story about all the money being made on pot sales by other states and a light, albeit a feeble one, could appear over his head. That will be the time for progressives to pounce.

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