Imagine a world where pot is legal, regulated, and taxed. In this world, Missouri is rolling around in a giant pile of money and making it rain all over the place.
That's according to a new study released by the National Cannabis Coalition in conjunction with Show-Me Cannabis. The group commissioned the study from Harvard University economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron as a way to put some cold, hard figures on their marijuana legalization and regulation bill.
The $149 million comes from several different places, but mostly from no longer having to police and prosecute pot smokers.
According to Show-Me Cannabis's John Payne, the group commissioned the study while their 2012 legalization campaign was still alive and well. Because of that, Missouri's study came out first, but he says there will be studies for all 50 states at some point.
According to Dr. Miron's figures, Missouri's government would save $90 million annually and generate $59 million from taxing legalized marijuana like cigarettes and booze.
It's not hard to see where the $90 million comes from. In 2011, there were 22,113 arrests made in Missouri over pot and 91.5 percent of those were for possession. Imagine all that gets thrown out the window -- no more cops trolling for smokers, planning stings on dealers; no more court cases for prosecutors, judges, or public defenders; no more paying to put up tokers in Le Hotel Clink. That's a lot of free money all of the sudden.
Interestingly, Miron says that the $149 million figure is roughly the same for all the states, should they choose to legalize pot. And though he concedes his study has generated criticism from both those who say the figures are inflated and those who say they're too small, the exact dollar amount isn't as important as the fundamental question behind the debate.
"I don't think we should care about the shape of this, the crucial thing to me is making it legal reather than illegal," he says. "The main thing I hope people think about is, 'Why should the government be intervening with individuals using marijuana?"