How Much Does It Cost to Implement Recreational Pot Use?

A scenario unfolding in Hawaii could ultimately prove to be the perfect case study demonstrating that the government breaks everything it touches. The scenario involves implementing recreational marijuana to go along with already-legal medical cannabis. When you dig through all the political speak and legal mumbo-jumbo, you get to the fundamental issue: money

Data shows that Hawaii has reaped millions of dollars in tax revenues from state-legal medical cannabis. Hawaii is not unusual in that regard. Millions in tax receipts are the norm. Furthermore, state taxing authorities have estimated that Hawaii stands to collect upwards of $50 million annually by giving the green light to recreational sales.

So far, so good. The bizarre part of this story is found in comments made by state representative Ryan Yamane, comments suggesting that $50 million isn’t enough to implement a recreational cannabis program in Hawaii.

Something Only Government Can Do

Setting federal law aside for just one minute, Hawaiian lawmakers can decriminalize recreational cannabis in their state simply by writing a single-page bill, voting on it, and sending it to the Governor for a signature. They can get it done with a budget just large enough to cover the amount of time it takes to print and vote on the bill.

Turning such a simple thing into an enterprise costing tens of millions of dollars is something only the government can do. Regardless of your stand on cannabis in general, it is hard to defend spending that kind of money to support a decision to stop prosecuting marijuana crimes.

To be clear, that’s all state legalization does. States do not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to legalize marijuana. All they can do is decriminalize it within their borders. But make no mistake, decriminalization is not the same thing as legalization. Decriminalization is simply the choice to stop prosecuting.

Paying for the Bureaucratic Machine

So if decriminalization can be accomplished with a simple one-page bill and a governor’s signature, why is one Hawaii lawmaker claiming $50 million in tax revenue will not cover the costs of implementation? Because the legislature doesn’t want to just decriminalize. They want to decriminalize and control.

Hawaii is not alone in this regard, either. All the states that have given the green light to cannabis have implemented bureaucratic programs to control the industry. Wherever you have bureaucracy entrenched, we spend a lot of money feeding the bureaucratic machine.

Consumers Pay the Price

Feeding a bureaucracy isn’t cheap. In fact, consumers are the ones left paying the price. Take Utah. Park City’s Deseret Wellness says the Beehive State has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis laws in the nation. The entire state is supported by just 15 medical cannabis pharmacies and a limited number of processors and growers.

Why such limits? Because they have been implemented by state lawmakers wanting to keep the program tightly in their grip. But the net effect for patients is paying to feed the beast via higher prices.

Many of Utah’s medical cannabis patients regularly struggle to pay for their medicines. Between inadequate supply, licensing, and taxes, retail prices are much higher than they need to be. Back in Hawaii, at least one lawmaker is concerned that estimated cannabis tax revenues still will not be enough.

How much does it really cost to give the green light to recreational marijuana? In Hawaii, the price tag is apparently north of $50 million annually. Leave it to government to take something so simple and turn it into a proverbial money pit. The practice is something lawmakers seem to have perfected.

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