Hump Day: Legalizing marijuana could raise tax revenue for New Brunswick

Hump Day 2 croppedHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
Moncton Times & Transcript

In 2001, I was heavily involved in the provincial referendum which offered the opportunity to New Brunswickers to ‘ban’ video lottery terminals (VLTs). The referendum was the result of a 1999 provincial election promise by then-premier Bernard Lord.

The arguments back then to ‘ban’ (I’m using quotation marks because you can’t ban them – you just drive them underground) the machines were that they ruined the lives of those addicted to gambling. I was on the side of industry which wanted to keep them visible, regulated and legal. Sending them underground was not the answer.

The provincial government was asked point-blank which schools and hospitals would be closed with the $50-million loss in government revenue from the terminals. Moncton was also the home to the Atlantic Lottery Corporation (ALC) and large industry players such as Spielo Gaming International. Between them, they employed hundreds of well-paid people.

How could Moncton continue to lay claim to ALC’s head office with such a large portion of New Brunswick-based revenue taken out of the system? How could companies such as Spielo and others continue to prosper by manufacturing machines, doing research and development and exporting internationally from a province where the very products they produced were basically thrown into the arms of the criminal element by being ‘banned’? You could almost hear the hillbilly banjos playing.

For all intents and purposes, running VLTs back underground by taking off the regulations and ‘banning’ them would be exactly the same as prohibition on alcohol in the earlier part of the 20th century. It didn’t work. All the government did was transfer tax revenue out of their own coffers into the hands of organized crime. Congratulations!

Let's stop sending all this money to criminals. Let's tax it and put that money to good use.
Stop sending all this money to the black market and organized crime. Let’s tax it and put that money to good use.

I recently watched a prohibition-themed PBS documentary series on Netflix. It was fascinating. The government lost all the tax dollars, the criminals started making all the money and everyone could drink anyway. All you had to do was look around. It was just bad public policy pushed by well-meaning people who couldn’t see beyond their own myopic, utopian and naïve vision of the world.

There’s a parallel in that entire story with what’s going on today with discussions surrounding the legalization of ‍marijuana. Now, I’m going to ask you all a question. Everyone together now, raise your hand if you’ve ever tried ‍ma‍‍rijuana. I’ll wait. I know there are millions of you out there reading this. OK, all done?

A quick scan of the crowd shows that I’m probably the last person in the world who has never tried pot. At least that’s the way I feel sometimes. I don’t smoke cigarettes and I don’t see the attraction in smoking ‍marijuana recreationally. (It goes without saying the medical ‍marijuana is a no-brainer, at least in my books.) Besides, can you really say it doesn’t reek to high heaven? I can’t stand the smell. Sure you can eat it in baked goods for a similar effect, but the last thing I need is something that gives me the munchies. I think I have that skill down pat already.

Fewer and fewer people believe that pot is a pox on society anymore. Our economies both federally and provincially are in difficulty. The only thing being accomplished by keeping ‍mari‍‍juana illegal is stocking up the driveways of criminals with luxury cars. Let’s legalize it, sell it commercially and tax it. Sure, there will still be some sold underground, but surely the safety, quality, availability and lack of stigma associated with the commercially available stuff will put a big dent in that.

‍Marijuana is legal in Colorado. According to The Cannabist, a website run by the Denver Post newspaper, the cumulative state revenue on pot (taxes, licences, etc.) from January to June 2015 was $60.7 million USD ($79.5 million CAD) – or $11.32 USD ($14.83 CAD) for every resident (5.36 million people). An admittedly overly simplistic conversion over to New Brunswick (754,000 people) for that same time period would have meant that we would have had $11.2 million more in our government’s coffers, assuming we used the same tax rate and fees as Colorado.

Prohibiting alcohol and gambling only makes criminals rich. The same is happening with ‍marijuana, so why aren’t we learning from history and legalizing it? Wouldn’t it make more sense for our government to earn the money rather than handing it over to criminals while wasting tax dollars on ineffective enforcement?

It’s 2015. Not many people think pot is evil anymore. It’s time to wake up and smell the weed stench. There’s a lot of money going up in that smoke – and we’re poor. It doesn’t take a genius to put two and two together.

One Response to Hump Day: Legalizing marijuana could raise tax revenue for New Brunswick

  1. I tend to agree with you. Regulation will also make it unlikely that foreign additives will be included such as formaldhyde or PCP. It will keep it out of the wrong hands hopefully. More than now.