Use Marijuana Tax Revenues To Treat Related Public Health Issues

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The Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation is up and running. And run it will in order to have a detailed set of recommendations for its November deadline. It has lots of issues to consider as indicated by its discussion paper and beyond. Protection of children in the shift from criminalization to regulation must be paramount.

Taxation raises a lot of questions. There’s no doubt that marijuana, itself, and the industry and its employees, agents, etc. should be taxed. One of the main arguments for legalization and regulation is that it will impose levies on the cannabis industry, ending its illicit tax-free days. How much to tax is a critical issue: too low and the levies, even combined with other strategies, won’t have much impact dampening harmful consumption; too high and the illicit market can creep back in (we’ve seen this happen with cigarettes).

At any rate, taxation produces revenue for governments. What should be done with the flow derived from marijuana? Monies from taxes on cannabis could simply be directed to the general revenue pool of government. However, for two compelling reasons, the task force should recommend that any legislation regulating marijuana should stipulate that funds should be earmarked for public health issues related to cannabis.

First, the goal of taxing drugs is to discourage harmful consumption. The money raised through those taxes will have more impact if it is used to support prevention and counselling than it will by becoming part of general revenues used for various purposes. Second, the taxes will more likely be supported by the public if they are used for these specific ends.

There are a number of interventions to reduce damaging consumption and respond to harmful use, such as educational and treatment programs, that require significant resources. One means to at least partially offset these costs is for legislatures to stipulate that the funds raised by taxes should be dedicated to these various efforts.

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