The California Board of Equalization, which is charged with administrative authority over the State’s taxes, estimated that a legislative proposal to legalize the growth, sale, and consumption of marijuana as a means of bridging California’s budget gap would raise nearly $1.4 billion per year. Such a sum would not, of course, cover the entire California budget deficit — which amounts to well over $20 billion — but it is not chicken feed, either.
One wonders whether the enormous budget pressures that states are facing will cause them to make choices they really hadn’t considered palatable before. In Ohio, for example, the Governor retreated from long-standing opposition to legalized gambling to allow video slot machines at seven Ohio racetracks. The proposal is supposed to raise $1 billion in revenues and thereby help to close a multi-billion dollar budget deficit. (I’ve never understood, incidentally, how it is really possible to estimate, with any degree of accuracy, the likely revenues from legalized gambling, and it would be interesting to see whether such estimates, in retrospect, have even come close to what is actually achieved.)
From a political standpoint, the great thing about sin taxes is that the people who don’t engage in the sin can decry the sin, raise the tax, and enjoy the revenue, all at the same time. Such activities are easier than raising taxes on the general population or cutting existing programs or governmental employees. It may well be that the poor economy and budget problems, coupled with those political considerations, make more progress toward legalizing marijuana than NORML ever has.