Money grows on trees
The current economic crisis in New Jersey has left politicians and economists scrambling for a viable solution to alleviate some of the economic distress left behind by the spend-happy former Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who ran up a $12 billion deficit with lavish spending habits and mediocre economic reform. Unfortunately, as we have seen in the past month, these "viable" solutions that Gov. Chris Christie has posed, aim to shift the consequence of Corzine's foolish spending habits onto the lives of tax-paying N.J. residents, ultimately forcing them to bear all consequences and accept the proposed tax increases, adjusted pensions, proposed 25 percent jump in NJ Transit fares and massive cuts in financial aid and higher education funding. All of these changes just mentioned share a few things in common: They will undoubtedly help bridge the deficit gap in the New Jersey, they all are negative changes that add no positive outcomes for the N.J. resident and, perhaps the most important, they are all entirely unnecessary.
Imagine a troubling economy whose financial woes could be solved with an unlimited abundant natural resource. A resource whose exploitation carries little consequence medically, extreme upside economically and whose expense requires little — if any — government spending. This resource, a commodity that has survived through recent economic recessions around, has evolved and blossomed despite the war against it, is known as marijuana — the most profitable cash crop in the world.
Hidden in the shadows of recent political debate and controversy lies the California's movement in the legalization of marijuana to fix their troubling economy. While Christie's budget proposal seems to affect everyone besides the people earning more than $400,000, it becomes evident that he needs to spend less time developing lackluster reforms that affect the majority of the people in New Jersey — the people earning under $400,000 — and spend more time looking at the true ingenious of California's motive and direction going into the state's November's ballot. This economic wisdom can be attributed to the sheer numbers, which undoubtedly favor the legalization of marijuana.
California made $11 million in 2009 of revenue off taxed medicinal marijuana, while the Drug Enforcement Administration — let's not forget, the DEA is paid for with our federal tax dollars — spent $10 billion on the war against the substance, a substance with no ties to physical dependence or addiction and certainly no reported cases of death caused by smoking the plant. I think it goes without saying, that the "war against marijuana" has been an utter disaster, and at a rate of about $10 billion a year, has achieved no success.
Government data suggests that marijuana stands as a $36 billion-a-year cash crop in the United States — that is, $36 billion that is unregulated and completely untaxed. Milton Friedman, a former economist and statistician, projected government revenue from anywhere between $14 and $40 billion a year, just from the taxation and regulation of the substance alone. For one Californian county, cannabis culture remains as two-thirds of the local economy, with crops estimated at $1 billion. CNBC reports suggest that with an organized system of legalization, we would save $7.78 billion a year in law enforcement costs against the drug alone — nearly $8 billion that could be used to fight the deficits. That number does not include the massive amount of money the state and federal system would save for not having to fund the imprisonment of criminals with marijuana-related offenses.
Across the board, New Jersey is facing massive deficits — deficits that if not addressed correctly, could spin into a state of disaster — a position that California is extremely familiar with. After a 40-year war against the drug, and billions of tax dollars down the drain, California is finally adopting the notion to cash in on one of the most profitable resources in the world, instead of trying to win a war they cannot win. Marijuana has blossomed into a lifestyle whose business is perhaps the most consistent business known in modern day.
Despite the troubling economy, people continue consuming cannabis, making marijuana one of the most stable commodities known. With marijuana serving as a bigger cash crop than wheat and corn combined, it seems plausible to assume that regulating and legalizing marijuana could cause a spark in the economy, on both the state and federal levels. California's November ballot will be the story that surrounds news headlines across the country — and maybe then, Christie will put his conservatism aside and cash in on the marijuana business as a source of revenue for the state. This idea seems more rational than cutting the resources New Jersey needs most. Let's hope that sometime in the next four years — because a second term for Christie does not look too promising — Christie will come to terms with the fact that money does grow on trees.
Robert Pavleszek is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science.