By Aaron Yarmuth
We have a weed crisis in this country.
Weed needs to be legalized as soon as possible. Nationally, sure. But in Kentucky, a poor state with a pension crisis, there should be no hesitation in mining this (green) gold rush.
For the first time, real data proves that the weed industry is an emerging economic boon, and its social impacts are not what detractors would like you to believe.
A recent Washington Post article — real news — revealed the overwhelmingly positive economic impact the marijuana industry has had in Colorado, where weed was legalized and began selling commercially Jan. 1, 2014. According to the state-commissioned study by the Marijuana Policy Group, the industry generated $2.4 billion in economic activity in 2015, including the creation of 18,000 new, full-time jobs.
To be clear, this does not mean that Coloradans and weed-seeking tourists spent $2.4 billion of their money on weed.
That figure is the amalgamation of sales, increased demand for local goods and services, warehouse and commercial space and farming/growing equipment, as well as professional services, such as lawyers and accountants. In fact, the retail sale of pot in 2015 was reportedly close to $1 billion.
Legalization opponents like to demonize users as degenerate addicts wasting their rent money on marijuana. But the other significant finding was that “the legal marijuana industry is not coming from new, previously untapped demand for cannabis, but rather from a reduction of the unregulated black market.”
This is a tremendously important point because it disproves opponents who argue that America will become one big stoner state if they could get high legally.
Anecdotally, I’ve always known this to be true. I have friends who smoke, or have smoked in the past — or baked a weed treat. They vary in every way possible: age, race, sex, religion and political party affiliation.
My friends who don’t smoke aren’t potheads in waiting, either… It’s not that pot is illegal that deters them from getting high. In fact, they could smoke now if they wanted to — so could I, and so could you.
But I have no interest in smoking weed because I don’t like it. Tried it, didn’t care for it, and decided it’s not for me. But there’s no question I could get it anytime — a phone call away. And that’s the lie about marijuana — people who want it, get it, and people who don’t… don’t.
A Gallup Poll from a few weeks ago showed that 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana — a record high (no pun intended). It’s bipartisan, too: 72 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of Republicans now favor legalization.
The minority of Americans who remain opposed to this need to understand that this is going on, whether it’s legal or not. The moral objection, as with alcohol and other perceived vices, is perfectly understandable. However, to argue against the medical, economic and social benefits is just plain wrong.
Further, it would be an entirely different debate if the underground weed economy didn’t already exist. As this study showed, in Colorado close to $1 billion has made its way out of the shadows, off the street corners and into the economy. The idea that it can be stopped is plain wrong, and to think otherwise at this point is willful ignorance.
Kentucky needs to unearth an economic gold mine now more than ever. At risk are the promised retirements of hundreds of thousands of teachers and other public employees. Their pensions are in peril. The future of our schools is in jeopardy, because if we can’t fulfill the promise to the last generation of teachers, how will we attract the next generation?
Opponents of weed have a choice: Bring the black-market for marijuana into the system, tax it, regulate it and save teachers’ pensions — resetting the economic trajectory of Kentucky…
Or, bury your head in the weeds.