OPINION: Legalizing cannabis just makes economic sense

Nicolas Ziccardi, Assistant Opinion Editor

On April 7, Virginia became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana in addition to 37 states which have legalized medicinal marijuana. In North Carolina, both forms are still illegal.

However, two bills filed in the North Carolina State Senate on that same day seek to change that. One bill would see cannabis become available for medical use in certain cases, and the other would see the drug become fully legalized in the state.

According to The Seahawk, “Senate Bill 646, or the Marijuana Justice and Reinvestment Act, takes a broad approach to cannabis regulatory reform. This bill, sponsored solely by Democratic Senators, would allow certain quantities of cannabis to be possessed by adults 21 years old and up, as well as sold by approved and licensed vendors. Senate Bill 711 proposes only the medical legalization of cannabis. The bill is off to a promising start, receiving a bipartisan introduction by two Republican and two Democratic senators.”

While the moral arguments for and against cannabis legalization have been thoroughly played out and exhausted, the fiscal incentives and prerogative to legalize far outweigh any moral hesitations. North Carolina has taken the tax revenues from both alcohol and lottery ticket sales and financed public works projects and programs that make the best of potentially detrimental activities. 

For every dollar spent on a lottery ticket, 25 cents are spent on education-related expenses including school construction, college scholarships and grants. NC Education Lottery programs have received more than $7.3 billion as of June 30, 2020, and New Hanover County itself received $11,083,271 last year and $124,038,389 since the program’s beginning. 

As for alcohol, the industry also brings in millions annually to the state. The Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC) regulates the sale of alcohol and taxes revenue in a similar way to that of lottery tickets.

According to the News & Observer, “The $1.2 billion industry in North Carolina allowed the state to collect $463 million in alcohol taxes, fees and revenue in the last fiscal year.”

These funds went to various local and statewide programs as well as a general fund for the state. 

But beyond the financial incentives, the moral prerogative goes beyond regulating cannabis, it would change the way in which incarceration is perceived in the state. As the proposed Senate Bill 646 points out, “black individuals are three and six-tenths times as likely as white individuals to be arrested for cannabis possession, despite nearly identical use rates.” 

According to the ACLU, “Of the 8.2 million marijuana arrests between 2001 and 2010, 88% were for simply having marijuana.”

The focus shifts from rehabilitation, after all, drug possession and use is a solely personal struggle and shifts the blame from the drug to the user. If individuals against the legalization of recreational marijuana are truly concerned about the effects it has on users’ lives, then legalization is the most effective way to combat its debilitating effects. Why not have a portion of cannabis taxes go towards combating addiction in the same way lottery sales help fund the gambling hotline? 

If alcohol or lottery tickets were still illegal as they have been on and off throughout our nation’s history, people would still be drinking and gambling. That money would be changing hands under the table instead of going into public projects.

As the failure of the 18th amendment illustrated, substances will still be abused whether they are illegal or not, and if we spent half of the effort we currently do on enforcing drug busts and incarcerating people on possession charges as we did regulating and treating those with addiction, it would no longer be an issue. Whether you are personally in favor of using it or not, the most effective and logical decision is to legalize cannabis in the state.