Marijuana Legalization Brings Jobs, Money And Safety

On a conference call Thursday afternoon, two House Representatives from the East Coast discussed their pending legislation to legalize marijuana and what their existing medical cannabis programs have contributed to their states already.

Representative Edith Ajello, D- Rhode Island, and Rep. Diane Russell, D- Maine, have both previously sponsored marijuana legalization bills. Ajello is the Chairwoman of her House Judiciary Committee, the position held by Rep. John Walsh in Michigan.

Maine enacted medical marijuana in 2009. Rhode Island passed their medical marijuana law earlier this year, and in neighboring state Massachusetts voters approved a medical marijuana law on November 6, 2012, by more than 60%. Washington and Colorado each legalized marijuana on that same day. Both Representatives said this time around, passing the legalization bills will be easier due to the changing nature of national politics.

The conference call was established by the Marijuana Policy Project, the organization principally responsible for the passage of Michigan’s Medical Marijuana Act in 2008. Both Reps. Ajello and Russell were attending a conference in Washington, DC. Neither Representative minced words about what a state marijuana program could mean to their constituents.

“We created 700 new jobs in Maine,” under the current medical marijuana law, says Rep. Russell.

Input from patients and citizens is driving improvements to the current law. “We are considering introducing a bill that says government should not decide” what conditions are necessary for a medical recommendation, a move toward eliminating Maine’s list of qualifying conditions and placing the power to recommend medicinal cannabis completely in the hands of doctors, she said.

Both reps were quick to dispel old myths about marijuana prohibition. “We see that with dispensaries and the caregiver model, we legalized them and the roof did not cave in,” Russell confirmed.

By advancing legalization legislation, both states will capitalize on the successes of their state medical marijuana programs. “We want to legalize marijuana for sale the way liquor is sold,” Rep. Ajello stated. “Decrim was certainly a step in that process.

“The quicker we can move along with getting this regulated… the better.” Says Russell: “We built the foundation of my bill on the existing (medical marijuana) system.”The motives for legalization are very tangible. “Prohibition costs $21 million in Rhode Island each year,” Ajello said. The new program she proposes would yield approximately “$30.7 million between savings and revenues.”

Russell confirms that Maine would see a similar spike in revenue. “We estimate $8 million dollars” annually, she reports, but admits it is difficult to estimate. There are many revenue streams to consider. “Sales tax, income tax, it think it’s fair to say there is already a market for marijuana.”

Money is not the only motivating factor in pushing for legalization of the socially-accepted medicinal herb. Rep. Ajello said, “I want to see the criminal element out of it.” Russell added: “We have a robust black market here.”

Acceptance among their fellow legislators has been surprising. “There is really much broader support among politicians than I expected,” Ajello says.

Russell accents voter acceptance of recreational use of cannabis. “At the end of the day… people are far ahead of the politicians on this.” She added: “We have seen the culture shift dramatically. We can translate that into good outcomes.”

“Politicians will catch up with the public on this,” Ajello stated.

Both programs will preserve the right of individuals to grow their own marijuana. One allows a cultivation area defined by square footage for individuals and corporations; one would allow caregivers to purchase zip ties from the government, one per plant to illustrate legal possession, as a method of generating funds.

Both Representatives were very positive about the chances for their respective bills during the next legislative cycle. “We need to have a 10,000 foot view of how we are going to manage the drug trade and the start of that is rational policy,” Russell summarized.

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