Connecticut's raised taxes on millionaires and cigarettes. We've raised the fees you pay on cars, hunting licenses and almost everything else, and it's still not enough to solve the state's budget blues.
So why let producers and consumers of what is perhaps the state's third most valuable agricultural crop off without paying a penny in taxes?
According to a 2006 study of marijuana production in this nation, the market value of Connecticut-grown grass is at least $32.2 million a year. That's less than greenhouse and nursery crops and the totals for veggies and fruit, but more than shade-grown tobacco brings in.
A recent raid on a high-tech, hydroponic indoor marijuana operation in New Haven netted 273 plants and 152 pounds of pre-packaged pot the cops valued at $2.4 million.
Federal drug experts estimate that local production only accounts for a fraction of the marijuana sold in the U.S., which means the sales that could be taxed by the state would be far more than the estimated 20,000 pounds of dope gown locally in Connecticut each year.
Legalizing marijuana would generate far more benefits than simple tax revenue, according to Bob Painter, a researcher and policy analyst at the Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy at Central Connecticut State University.
He believes putting pot into the same category as alcohol and tobacco, with strict regulation and a prohibition on sales to minors, would cut law enforcement and prison costs. Painter says money from taxing pot could be used to fund education, prevention and treatment of drug addiction.
Painter doesn't think any of this could happen right away, but he says the obvious failure of the war on drugs is pushing many moderates toward alternatives that were once considered the exclusive domain of radical lefty freaks.
Chances for legalizing pot in Connecticut are "pretty small in the near future," Painter admits. He adds that, "In the distant future, they're pretty likely. ... In 10 years, we're going to be looking at a different landscape."
The landscape is already changing.
Massachusetts voters recently approved decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. The Obama administration has halted federal raids on producers and users of medical marijuana as long as state laws aren't being violated.
In Connecticut, state Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney says the shift in federal policy could lend momentum to legalize medical marijuana here. The legislature passed a medical marijuana bill a couple of years ago, only to see Gov. M. Jodi Rell veto it.
Looney and state Sen. Toni Harp, both New Haven Democrats, this year sought legislation to legalize small amounts of pot, claiming it could save the state $11 million a year in law enforcement costs. Looney said he doubts they'll try again until the current "cast of characters" changes.
Painter said his research shows legalization of marijuana would have its biggest effect in Connecticut's cities. He found that 22 percent of all drug arrests in Hartford ( where the suburbanites come for their dope ) between Dec. 16, 2008, to June 16, 2009, involved marijuana.
State Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, an East Haven Democrat and co-chairman of the legislature's Judiciary Committee, thinks attitudes are changing about how to deal with marijuana.
Lawlor said the real question isn't stopping the sale of weed, which appears to be impossible. ( A recent survey of 47,000 teenagers found that a 10-year decline in pot use by high schoolers has halted and smoking pot is on the rise again. ) Lawlor figures the important issue is figuring out how best to control those sales.
A criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven, Lawlor said he routinely asks new college students whether it's easier for teens to get beer or marijuana. "Almost without exception, recent high school graduates say it's easier to get pot," Lawlor said.
"So, would you be able to control it better if you treated marijuana more like beer?" Lawlor asked.
And, of course, tax it like beer.
Gregory B. Hladky
December 22, 2009
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The Green Issue - In 10 years, weed could be legal — and taxed — in Connecticut