Washington State’s marijuana legalization system has had its shares of ups and downs. The Initiative 502 legalization proposal was criticized by many cannabis activists within the Evergreen State and across the country for several reasons and the usual prohibitionists decried that the sky would fall in the Pacific Northwest. Legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana is hard to get right and is a monumental task that is going to have its share of mistakes. Despite any of the complaints that can be legitimately levied against Washington’s legalization system, supporters of legalization have plenty of reasons to deem the Washington experience a success and they were just bolstered by about $70 million more reasons to urge anyone on the fence to support legalization across the country.
As a civil libertarian and political wonk, my first look at any policy is to consider the freedom and quality of life of individuals. Most important to me, were the decrease in arrests and Washington immediately experienced a huge reduction in marijuana arrests as more than 5,000 arrests a year went down to under 150. After considering the expanded freedom, then I want to next consider how that new freedom impacts the entire community, looking at the crime rate and safety on the roads. Following legalization, highway fatalities haven’t increased and neighborhoods aren’t any more dangerous.
Many voters vote to legalize marijuana because they want to generate more revenue for their state. They understand that there are tax-free sales occurring that don’t go towards any state public services. Washington’s legalization system, with high taxation and high prices, seemed to be a prime candidate to have rather underwhelming sales because the prices are so much higher than the underground market. Well, surprising many, Washington’s marijuana sales brought in $70 million in new tax revenue in just the first year. This new revenue is on top of the law enforcement and judicial savings of not investigating, arresting, prosecuting and jailing people for marijuana. Regardless of any issues the Washington legalization experience has had, the overall benefit to the state has been positive and is one that other states should follow in 2016 and beyond.