Pot could be tax windfall, but skeptics abound

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A caregiver picks a marijuana bud for a patient at a marijuana dispensary in Denver on Tuesday. Colorado, Oregon and Washington could become the first states to legalize marijuana this fall.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DENVER — A catchy pro-marijuana jingle for Colorado voters considering legalizing the drug goes like this: “Jobs for our people. Money for schools. Who could ask for more?”

It’s a bit more complicated than that in the three states — Colorado, Oregon and Washington — that could become the first to legalize marijuana this fall.

The debate over how much tax money recreational marijuana laws could produce is playing an outsize role in the campaigns for and against legalization — and both sides concede they’re not really sure what would happen.

At one extreme, pro-pot campaigners say it could prove a windfall for cash-strapped states with new taxes on pot and reduced criminal justice costs.

At the other, state government skeptics warn legalization would lead to costly legal battles and expensive new bureaucracies to regulate marijuana.

In all three states asking voters to decide whether residents can smoke pot, the proponents promise big rewards, though estimates of tax revenue vary widely.

There are numerous questions about the projections, and since no state has legalized marijuana for anything but medical purposes, the actual result is anyone’s guess.

The biggest unknown: would the federal government allow marijuana markets to materialize?

When California voters considered marijuana legalization in 2010, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned that the federal government would not look the other way and allow a state marijuana market in defiance of federal drug law. Holder vowed a month before the election to “vigorously enforce” federal marijuana prohibition. Voters rejected the measure.

Holder hasn’t been as vocal this year, but that could change. In early September, nine former heads of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration called on Holder to issue similar warnings to Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Voters to consider pot legalization