Report: Marijuana Smuggling Crashes After States Legalize

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation
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The number of offenses for marijuana trafficking fell through the floor from 2012 through 2015, just as states began legalizing recreational and medicinal marijuana.

The United States Sentencing Commission (USSC), which monitors trafficking offenses, found the number of marijuana traffickers sentenced fell by more than a third from 2012 t0 2015, to below 3,000.

USSC only records federal trafficking offenses, so marijuana smuggling between states doesn’t factor into the numbers. The smuggling of heroin and methamphetamine rose over the same period.

Colorado and Washington state both voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. In total, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana in some form or another

“The number of marijuana traffickers rose slightly over time until a sharp decline in fiscal year 2013 and the number continues to decrease,” says the USSC report. The USSC makes clear it doesn’t have enough evidence to say for certain legalizing weed has driven down the amount of marijuana smuggling, though observers might draw that conclusion.

There are three possible explanations for the fall in marijuana smuggling offenses, Beau Kilmer, a drug policy researcher at the RAND Corporation told The Washington Post.

“1) efforts made by law enforcement, 2) efforts made by the smugglers to conceal the contraband, and 3) the amount of contraband being shipped. Thus, there could be multiple explanations for the decrease at the federal level,” said Kilmer.

If marijuana is legalized nationally it might not only hamper the black market trade but also may bring in significant revenue, according to the non-partisan Tax Foundation. Up to $28 billion of revenue could be generated for federal, state and local governments under a legal marijuana regime. (RELATED: Study: Legalizing Weed Could Net $28 Billion In Tax Revenue)

The Tax Foundation estimates a mature marijuana market could net $7 billion for the federal government if a $23 per pound tax was applied — a similar tax level to the one put on tobacco. Legal marijuana markets in Colorado and Washington have already raised more revenue than initially estimated.

Colorado assumed it would raise $70 million from marijuana taxes per year. Updated projections show the state could rake in as much as $140 million in 2016. Marijuana sales are averaging over $2 million a day in Washington, with revenue set to reach $270 million per year.

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