Daniel Stein says the salvation of U.S. taxpayers could be marijuana.
As Washington breaks the bank on Wall Street bailouts, President Barack Obama's stimulus package and other spend-now, pay-later measures, most observers agree that politicians will eventually need to increase revenue or cut spending to cover the federal government's debts.
Stein believes Washington could begin to balance its books now if politicians would take a serious look at his industry. The owner of two retail outlets that he claims generate $1 million in revenue annually, Stein says he pays around $80,000 a year in sales taxes to the state of California. But the federal government, which does not acknowledge Stein's sales as legitimate commerce, gets nothing from his business.
Sound odd? Not if you know that Stein sells marijuana. See inside a cannabis dispensary
In fact, because federal authorities have spent time trying to close his and other medical-marijuana clubs, Washington is losing money on him.
Imagine how much the feds would save if they stopped cracking down on sellers, Stein says. Lawyer: Why US should legalize pot
"Cannabis is good for the economy," he said. "It's been here the whole time, but it's had a bad rap the entire time."
As more people begin to see the merits in Stein's logic, that bad rap is changing. While legalization, decriminalization and the medical use of marijuana continue to be debated in terms of public health, lawmakers and policy analysts are increasingly touting the economic benefits of regulating and taxing weed, which the Office of National Drug Control Policy says is the most popular illegal drug in the U.S.
Critics of legalizing marijuana say the potential economic benefits of regulating and taxing the drug would obscure the less-tangible, long-term downsides of making it more prevalent in society.
"The argument wholly ignores the issue of the connection between marijuana and criminal activity and also the larger picture of substance abuse," said David Capeless, the district attorney of Berkshire County in Massachusetts and the president of the state's district attorneys association. "It simply sends a bad message to kids about substance abuse in general, which is a wrong message, that it's not a big deal."
A 2004 report by the drug policy office said drugs cost Americans more than $180 billion related to health care, lost productivity and crime in 2002. That study lumped the effects of marijuana in with more-dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.
But marijuana advocates say history is on their side. They muster arguments similar to those that led to repealing Prohibition during the Great Depression.
"In the early 1930s, one of the reasons that alcohol was brought back was because government revenue was plummeting," Harvard economist Jeff Miron said. "There are some parallels to that now."
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