Vermont may be leaving tens of millions of dollars in revenue on the table. All it has to do to collect it is legalize pot.
That’s according to a new comprehensive report commissioned by the state to explore the legalization and regulation of marijuana, which is currently legally available for recreational use in Colorado and Washington state, and is on track to be allowed in Alaska and Oregon after voters in those states approved it in November.
Though it is focused on the options available to Vermont, the report serves as a policy guide to any state considering legalization today. Without making recommendations, it explores multiple forms of legalization from allowing adults 21 or older to grow marijuana to allowing its sale by nonprofits, for-profit businesses or a government entity. It also explores the regulations that could be layered on legalization, from limiting the amount of the chemical THC in marijuana products to mandating child-resistant packaging to imposing price floors.
“It is a false dichotomy to think about marijuana policy in terms of choosing either prohibition or the for-profit commercial model we see in Colorado and Washington,” said Beau Kilmer, project leader and co-director of RAND’s Drug Policy Research Center. “Jurisdictions considering alternatives to prohibition could limit supply to home production, cooperatives, nonprofit organizations, socially responsible businesses, a public authority or even a state monopoly.”
Vermont residents likely consumed somewhere between 15 and 25 metric tons of marijuana and spent between $125 million and $225 million on the plant, RAND estimates. Meanwhile, state and local governments spend less than $1 million annually enforcing existing marijuana laws, they found.
If passed, legalization could have big implications for the region. There are nearly 40 times the number of regular marijuana users within 200 miles of Vermont’s border as there are within its borders, RAND estimates. That means the state could see a huge boost in tourism by legalizing, unless of course other states legalize.
The report also identifies some “clear acute and chronic health effects” of heavy marijuana use, including the risk of accidents, impaired cognitive functioning under the influence of the drug, anxiety, dysphoria and panic. In the long-term, heavy users risk becoming dependent on the drug and risk contracting bronchitis. It’s not yet clear whether it has long-term cognitive impairment.