From what I’m seeing, at least in California, the answer to this question is yes.
Across California, numerous cities and counties already have marijuana taxes in place. Starting in 2018, when the commercial sale of recreational marijuana becomes legal, these local governments will start to rake in more revenues. The City of Los Angeles, for example, projects that it will collect $50 million in new revenues as a result of the tax passed by the voters in March of this year. And that’s just for year one of legal marijuana sales. Imagine how that will grow in the coming years as the marijuana industry expands.
And from what I’m seeing so far, these new tax revenues flow into the general funds of cities or counties. What makes up a big chunk of a general fund? Law enforcement. So as revenues go up, it is very likely that many of these new dollars will go toward expanding law enforcement.
Law enforcement is making the argument that legal marijuana will require additional enforcement and thus there is a need for more officers. The Los Angeles ballot measure approved by voters in March of this year promised voters that it would help police prevent crime. In Sacramento city officials plan to hire twelve new police officers to focus on cracking down on illegal marijuana grows.
If this pattern continues, it will maintain the premier role that marijuana policy has played as a driver of mass incarceration. For decades, huge numbers of black and brown people went to prison for doing what is now legal, and what is now enriching mostly white entrepreneurs and investors.
The alternative is the reparations approach. The right thing to do with marijuana is to use the tax revenues to repair the damage done to black and brown communities by the War on Drugs. Local government can use the tax dollars to support re-entry, job training and counseling supports for the formerly incarcerated. It can invest the dollars in prevention and youth services in neighborhoods that experienced the highest rates of marijuana arrests. It can support drug prevention and education in vulnerable populations. It can help people of color and women start businesses.
There’s a lot of amazing good that can come from a smart investment of marijuana tax revenues. It’s time we speak out on this issue and engage local government officials.
The Green Rush is upon us, and everyone wants a piece of the Green.