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Cigarette Taxes and What They Mean for Legal Marijuana

By: Monday July 21, 2014 12:05 pm

Cigarettes are one of the most heavily taxed products in American but in the future legal marijuana could easily end up with a tax rate on par with cigarettes or even surpassing them. To understand why, you need to look at the current dynamics surrounding cigarette taxes.

A very small group of people are impacted

According to a new poll from Gallup, 58 percent of smokers think cigarette taxes unjustly discriminate against them but there is a sizable share of smokers, 39 percent, who think these tax increases are justified.

As of this year 21 percent of Americans adults have smoked a cigarette in the past week, so just 12 percent of Americans are smokers who feel the cigarette taxes unjustly discriminate against them. Not surprisingly such a small group of people engaged in an activity most other Americans look down on have repeatedly ended up on the losing side of a tax fight. There were 115 state cigarette tax increases since 2000 plus numerous local increases as well.

Yet compared to marijuana users, cigarette smokers are still in a much better political position. First, the number of regular marijuana users is much smaller. Only 12 percent of Americans used marijuana in the past year  and the number which actually used it in the last week is probably half that. In the future the percent of the electorate who will be marijuana users that feel unfairly treated by high excise taxes is likely to be only in the single digits. Second, tobacco use is still more socially acceptable than marijuana use and will likely remain that way for a while.

The political forces for high marijuana taxes

On one side you will have only a small group of people personally opposed to high marijuana taxes and on the other side you will have governments hungry for new revenue being pushed to raise taxes by public health experts wanting to discourage use.

Most public health experts will point to the cigarette taxes as a reason for high taxes on marijuana. While 71 percent of smokers claim cigarette taxes don’t change their behavior the data tells a different story. The number of cigarettes consumed by a smoker each day has been noticeably falling as taxes went up. Taxes do work to discourage consumption. From Gallup:

Trend: Amount Smokers Smoke in a Day

Finally, the Republican tend to be the party which stand in the way of tax increases but Republicans are also the partisan group most opposed the marijuana legalization, most uncomfortable around marijuana users and most likely to see it as morally wrong.

What this all means is that raising so called “sin taxes” on marijuana is going to be an extremely attractive option for legislatures looking for ways to close budget gaps. Probably even more attractive than raising cigarette taxes, which has been one of the most popular piggy banks in the past decade.

The one big solace for marijuana users is that even with very high taxes fully legal marijuana is still likely to be significantly cheaper than it is now.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

After Six Months of Marijuana Sales, Support for Legalization in Colorado Remains Strong

By: Monday July 21, 2014 8:09 am
marijuana colorado

Most Colorado voters have not changed their opinion of marijuana legalization since it was adopted

Recreational marijuana has now been on sale in Colorado for over six months, giving the people of the state a decent chance to judge the new policy.  The voters of the state continue to think it was a good idea.

According to Quinnipiac, 54 percent of registered voters in Colorado support Amendment 64 which was approved by voters in the 2012 election. Only 43 percent of voters say the oppose the law.

This level of support has been basically unchanged since the measure was first adopted. During the 2012 November election the ballot measure was approved in a vote of 55.3 percent yes to 44.7 percent no and all but one of Quinnipiac’s polls since then has found support steady at 54 percent. It would appear that direct experience with legalization hasn’t yet caused many people to change their minds about it either way.

The survey also looked at where voters support allowing marijuana to be consumed. While roughly two thirds of voters think it should remain illegal to consume marijuana at bars where alcohol is sold or entertainment events, the people of Colorado would accept the idea of marijuana smoking clubs. The poll found 66 think it should be legal to use marijuana at members-only marijuana clubs.

Interestingly, the end of alcohol prohibition saw a similar dynamic. In many states when prohibition ended, on premise alcohol consumption was often restricted to just private clubs and only slowly expanded decades later. In fact up until 2009 all the places to get a drink in Utah were still technically “private clubs” where you had to pay a membership fee to join if you wanted to drink.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Merely Decriminalizing Marijuana Isn’t Enough

By: Friday July 18, 2014 9:25 am

Yesterday one of the best marijuana decriminalization laws in the country took effect in Washington D.C. This may leave some asking why Initiative 71, the marijuana legalization measure set to make the November ballot in the District, is still necessary. Unfortunately, history has shown merely decriminalizing marijuana isn’t enough.

Decriminalization doesn’t always stop small marijuana arrests.

While the point of marijuana decriminalization is to stop people from being arrested and getting a criminal record simply for having a small amount of marijuana, in practice it hasn’t always lived up to this modest goal. The best example of its failure is New York City.

Marijuana possession has been decriminalized for decades in New York state, yet New York City arrests a huge number of people for marijuana thanks to stop-and-frisk. Using clever and/or legally questionable tactics police can still find ways to target people with small amounts of marijuana. The New York City Police Department exploits a loophole in the local law which still classifies marijuana in “public view” as a misdemeanor. They ask people to empty their pockets, which puts their marijuana in public view, so they can be arrested on this more significant charge.

Many of the other problems created by marijuana prohibition still remain.

Even if the decriminalization works as intended to stop small arrests, it does nothing to end many of the other problems created by prohibition. Without a way for people to legally buy or grow their own marijuana, it remains in the black market. Criminals continue to be enriched and often need to commit other crimes like tax evasion and money laundering to cover up their behavior. The black market also inherently makes transactions more dangerous by denying everyone a legal way to address disputes. In addition, people continue get a product of unknown quality which has not gone through safety inspections.

Only legalization can undermine the black market. Decriminalization is a positive step forward, but more needs to be done.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Why the Marijuana Product Recall in Colorado Is Actually Good News

By: Friday July 18, 2014 6:50 am

No one has gotten sick, but based on concerns about possible contamination state officials in Colorado acted quickly to issue a recall on some marijuana edibles (these are not the recalled items).

While no one has gotten sick, based on concerns about possible contamination state officials in Colorado acted quickly to issue a recall on some marijuana-containing products. From the Denver Post:

A popular Denver-based brand of marijuana-infused edibles was recalled by the Denver Department of Environmental Health on July 17 because of the “possible contamination from unsanitary equipment” and “use of equipment not intended for food manufacturing,” according to the department’s Public Health Inspections Division. [...]

The Department of Environmental Health verified that there haven’t been any reports of illness yet, but a food safety inspection was the reason for the recall.

While it may seem counter-intuitive, this is actually a good example of one of the many lesser discussed benefits of legalizing and regulating marijuana. This is how it makes marijuana safer.

Unlike the black market, products are now being inspected and if there is a potential problem discovered it is actually possible to issue a recall to swiftly contain the situation.

Even though the plant is relatively safe, being improperly handled can make it dangerous. In 1981 there actually was a nationwide Salmonella outbreak linked to contaminated marijuana. As we can see where marijuana is legal, regulated, and inspected this type of problem would likely be stopped well before it even developed or it could be quickly recalled.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

World Health Organization Calls for Drug Decriminalization to Prevent Spread of HIV

By: Thursday July 17, 2014 9:13 am

To advance the goals of public health, mainly preventing the spread of HIV, the World Health Organization is calling for the decriminalization of drugs in a new set of guidelines.

The report acknowledges that, “Supporting the health and well-being of key populations whose sexual behaviours, drug use, gender expression or perceived sexual orientation are currently criminalized may require changing legislation and adopting new policies and protective laws in accordance with international human rights standards. Without protective policies and decriminalization of the behaviour of key populations, barriers to essential health services will remain; many people from key populations may fear that seeking health care will expose them to adverse legal consequences.

It highlights the example of Portugal which decriminalized all drugs in 2001 and focused on harm reduction strategies. In 2000 the country had 907 new HIV cases among drug users but that dropped to only 267 new cases in 2008.

That is why when it comes to drugs they recommend:

  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize injection and other use of drugs and, thereby, reduce incarceration.
  • Countries should work toward developing policies and laws that decriminalize the use of clean needles and syringes (and that permit NSPs) and that legalize OST for people who are opioid-dependent.
  • Countries should ban compulsory treatment for people who use and/or inject drugs

The War on Drugs was not just an expensive failure and a racial justice travesty, it has hampered efforts to stop the spread of deadly diseases. The positive news is that the failings of the War on Drugs are starting to be more publicly acknowledged both nationally and internationally.

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