A mayor in western New York state on Tuesday became latest municipal official to call for the legalization of marijuana, citing not just wasted law enforcement resources, but a more traditional concern: Creating jobs and spurring economic growth.
"We can take money out of the hands of the criminal black market and generate enormous revenues for the government while creating thousands of new jobs," Svante Myrick, the 25-year-old mayor of Ithaca, New York, told Marijuana Majority, a website that tracks political and celebrity support for legalization. "New York should lead on this issue, just as we led on repealing alcohol prohibition.”
Myrick's comments come a month after voters opted to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington state, where the measure is expected to generate $606 million in tax revenue next year, according to estimates.
Drug reformers have long argued that pot is a harmless drug and that the government is wasting precious taxpayer money putting pot offenders behind bars. Increasingly, proponents are making an economic argument. Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell said last week he'd like to see marijuana "taxed and regulated."
Assuming the federal government does not interfere, marijuana legalization could have a significant impact on New York’s budget, according to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who estimated it would generate $187 million in tax revenue and $654 million in savings. Miron said the sum is "modest" compared with the size of New York’s budget.
Miron added the jobs impact will be modest as well. Mainly, he said, jobs that are now off the books will go above ground, as is already happening in Washington state.
"The economics does go in the direction of legalization," Miron said. "Far more important, however, is that people who use [marijuana] without harming anyone else can do so without being hassled, harassed, arrested, etc., by the government."
Beau Kilmer, a senior policy researcher at the Rand Corp., said making the leap from medical to recreational legalization has major implications for business. "When you have full-scale commercial legalization is when you're going to see private companies coming in," said Kilmer. "That's what can really drive down those production costs."
A new poll released Tuesday by the Marijuana Policy Project found 58 percent of American voters support legalizing marijuana and 50 percent predict marijuana will be legal under federal law within the next 10 years.