When State Revenue and Personal Freedom Coincide

C1_8734_r_xWhat Gambling Can Tell Us About Legalizing Marijuana
I am old enough to remember when Nevada was the only state where gambling was legal. In 1931, during the Great Depression, the state legislature had legalized casino gambling as a way to stimulate their economy, create new jobs, and entice more people to the state.

For decades Nevada had a monopoly on casino gambling — that, along with legalizing “no fault” divorces, and later legalizing prostitution — when most states did not offer those options. These factors combined to give Nevada a reputation as a maverick state where people could visit to engage in naughty behavior without legal consequences. “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas.”

The state is expected to legalize the recreational use of marijuana via voter initiative (Question 2) this November, which will further enhance that reputation.

Other states obviously knew that legal gambling was an alternative that might provide an economic boost to their states as well, but the prevailing morality at the time was far too negative towards gambling for elected officials in other states to pursue. It was a time when the religious communities had successfully convinced most Americans that a life of virtue, not vices, was the path to happiness.

But social mores change over time, and as gambling began to be seen as a legitimate form of entertainment, instead of a moral sin, the tax revenue and economic benefits from legal gambling were more attractive. In 1977, by voter initiative, New Jersey legalized casino gambling in Atlantic City, offering an east coast version of Nevada, where gambling hedonists could legally do what they could not yet do in their own states.

And gradually the barriers banning legal gambling began to crumble nationwide, leading to a situation today in which every state has some form of legal gambling, such as state-run lotteries, albeit with strange limitations in some states (e.g., in Missouri it is illegal to gamble on land, but perfectly legal to have casinos on riverboats on the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, although the boats never leave the shore).

The Balancing Test.

Which leads to the question of why behavior thought by many to be inappropriate (or even morally offensive), can nonetheless sometimes be legalized? Or put another way, when is conduct with the tinge of sinfulness out-weighted by the potential for economic benefits to the states?

I raise that question because of the increasingly profitable side of legal marijuana in the states that have elected to regulate and tax marijuana. As the latest revenue data make clear, legalizing marijuana has been an enormous benefit for the few states that have taken that step, and that fact will be more and more difficult for neighboring states to ignore over the coming years. As we saw with gambling, once the economic benefits of legal marijuana are obvious, the moral opposition will fade and the economic arguments will prevail.

The Latest Data from Colorado and Washington

In Colorado, the first state to get their legal retail outlets up and running on January 1, 2014, the gross sales of marijuana, and the tax revenue to the state, have continued to rise each year. For 2015, licensed marijuana stores in the state totaled an astounding $996,184,788 – just shy of $1 billion dollars, up from $669 million in sales in 2014.

Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxes and fees last year (including $35 million dedicated to school construction), up from $76 million in 2014 (when $13.3 million was raised for schools).

In Washington state, marijuana retail sales reached $322,823,639 in 2015, up from only $30,783,880 in 2014, when retail outlets were open for only a portion of the year. That 2015 sales figure has already been eclipsed in the first seven months of 2016.

The state retail tax revenue for fiscal year 2016 from recreational marijuana sales totaled $30,017,823, while state retail sales taxes from the sale of medical marijuana totaled $5,236,536. Local retail sales tax totaled $11,228,861 from recreational sales, and local retail tax totaled $2,084,323 for medical sales.

These, as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump might say, are “yugee” numbers, and they are continuing to increase each year, making them more and more difficult to ignore by other states.

Marijuana Legalization is Inevitable

Which brings me to my main point. At a time when several national polls confirm that between 55 and 61 percent of the entire country now favor full legalization, it is difficult to argue that marijuana smoking is, any longer, considered immoral behavior. Sure, there are pockets of fundamental moralists to whom anything pleasurable will always be suspect behavior, including sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. But this puritanical perspective is finding less and less support each year, and when balanced with the economic windfall that results when a state legalizes marijuana, it simply cannot prevail.

Today a majority of Americans under 65 support marijuana legalization, particularly younger adults: 71 percent of adults under 35 think marijuana use should be legal, a jump of 10 points since last year. The demographics are clear and unstoppable, as younger voters replace those over 65.

Just as all states now have some form of legal gambling, within a few short years, all states will offer some form of legal marijuana. It’s the smart thing to do; it’s the right thing to do; and it’s inevitable in a democracy, when most people want it.


This column originally ran on ATTN:



23 thoughts

  1. Tell it to Alabama Keith! Legalizing gambling to meet budget shortfalls is supposed to be morally superior to legalizing marijuana? Who do these legislators think theyre fooling?
    No wonder why Alabama’s lawmskers are failing in the Congressional scorecard:

    The fact is that casino tycoons and prohibitionist Congressman and other corrupt politicians have a lot in common these days. Hell; if Trump wins they would be one and the same!
    Ever since the ruling of Citizens United made the limits and anonymity of campaign donations unlimited, our election system has turned into a giant money-laundering washing machine. Sure, cracking down on the banks after the bail-outs helped push drug money from US banks like JP Morgan-Chase and foreign Banks like HSBC into casinos and campaigns, but no other campaign like Trump’s has ever met the profile of tasteless, morally bankrupt money laundering from any campaign in American history. The Times just did an article on how Trump is borrowing from the bank of China to finance his Wall Street adventures (yes, the same China he criticizes for manipulating world currency). But thats just par for the course if you look at the favors our favorite prohibitionist Governor Christie did to make millions of dollars in property tax disappear on Trumps bankrupt casinos and golf courses in Atlantic City.
    And the real story on this subject involves one of the biggest most immoral casino tycoon prohibitionists of our time, Sheldon Adelson;


    Adelson has already dumped 5.5 million on stopping Florida’s medical marijuana legalization where he was previously successful at stopping full legalization.

    1. Julian:
      What more can I do? I write our elected official, begging help for my disabled daughter with chronic pain. I have been a member of NORML since the seventies. I have bumper stickers. I verbally support legalization with my doctors and friends. What more can I do? I don’t want to have to move from the land where seven generations of my family have lived and farmed.
      Thank you, Julian, for all that you do!!! This is a woefully ignorant state!!

      1. Hello Bonnie from Bama,
        As a member of another state (Texas) without voter initiatives I sympathize greatly with your frustration. The Alabama state legislature has a long history of backwoods cronyism that is far too common in the south, but we may have more allies hidden throughout the hills and swamps than we ever imagined we just have to wake them up.
        What I mean by that is to take citizen lobbying to a face-to-face level. Even if you end up talking to a staff member, your Representatives are usually within ear shot. And if you keep your message clear and concise you may be surprised how much attention your voice can command. When we find our voice, in a way God and all Creation speaks the truth through us, the words will come to us calmly yet powerful enough to make the professional lobbyists speaking to our legislators pause in silence, forcing all to listen.
        A year and a half ago I walked into my Republican Representative Jason Isaac’s office believing I was preaching to a soul already purchased by the Sherriff’s Association… But I made the message clear… “We all know someone who either suffers from seizures or cares for someone who does. I consider myself healthy, but asking a person with epilepsy to walk these halls for more than the two hours that smoked or vaporized marijuana lasts just because concentrates that last longer carry a felony possession? We are asking for a patient advocate to have a seizure on our capitol steps because we would force them to take pills that make them feel worse.”
        Just tell it like it is. From there, with leadership from executive director Jax Finkle from Texas NORML and Heather Fazio from Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, Rep. Isaac is now in a position to write the legislation for the expansion of the Compassionate Use Act to PTSD and chronic illness.
        It can be done if we make it so Bonnie. Never give up, and always prepare with research.

      2. @ Bonnie from Bama:

        Here’s a summary of NORML’s congressional scorecard for Alabama. These are the people you can “citizen lobby” if you decide to take Julian’s advice.

        It’s not a good “class average!” These must be America’s failing students that we keep hearing about. You know, lazy, dishonest, etc… but be brave and strong, you have Truth on your side!

        I wonder why Gary Palmer (R) got a “B” when he voted “No” on all relevant amendments, and is hostile to MJ. No disrespect to NORML intended, but could this be a mistake? Or, does his “state’s rights” stance earn him a “B”?

        And, finally, “shout outs” to Mike Rogers (R) and Mo Brooks (R), who each earned a “B” with their respective “Yes” votes in Congress, on the McClintock/Polis Amendment, and the Rohrabacher/Farr Amendment.

        Alabama Scorecard:
        Richard Shelby (R): “F”
        Jeff Sessions (R): “F”

        Bradley Byrne (R): “D”
        Martha Roby (R): “D”
        Mike Rogers (R): “B”
        Robert Aderholt (R): “D”
        Mo Brooks (R): “B”
        Gary Palmer (R): “B”
        Terri Sewell (D): “D”

        For the details, go to NORML congressional scorecard:

  2. But as I mentioned in a previous post, Florida’s elderly population is more favorable to medical cannabis, and no matter what Adelson throws at Project SAM, California +65 population is majority in favor for full legalization, so the reefer madness commercial isn’t going to work so well this time around.
    But why do it? Why be such an evil prohibitionist douche bag that looks like he walked off the set of one of the SAW movies? It can’t be just the loss of Florida clientelle trying to hit up controlled-legal weed in Sheldon’s Vegas casinos by losing to competition on the river boat casinos… Although that’s a fair game…
    No, it must be the competition from clients who need to launder money. Legalizing marijuana in California and Florida will take some of Adelson’s best clients for laundering money. And Adelson is desperate to wash some dirty cash. He pledged $100 million to Trump’s campaign but as it turns out, Trump has no reliable business plan, no well established outreach program and has already kissed @$$ to the Russians to keep his own ponzi scheme of questionable loans afloat. So what in this day and age is an immoral money-laundering prohibitionist casino tycoon like Adelson to do on the verge of watching his prohibition racket collapse to legalization? Here’s a hint Sheldon; If you can’t beatm, join’m! How bout opening up a few dispensaries in your casinos and clean some of that money on something genuinely clean and moral like marijuana legalization! _\|/_

    1. Moral clarification for gambling;
      1). Signing a 20-year mortgage in a developing area.
      1). When the bank takes that mortgage debt and gambles it on the stock market on a variable interest.
      2). Smoking weed for a friendly game on poker night with $10 buy ins: membership rule: married with children.
      2). When Sheldon Adeldon attacks on-line gaming for access to children when the people going into his casinos look like they’re married TO children. (I.D.? Hello?)
      3). Collecting fairly taxed marijuana income for public education and sending kids to public colleges with publically funded marijuana
      3). Privately funded casinos serving children who should be attending privately run charter schools with ghost attendance rolls who are funded by the same persons gambling funds using our public tax dollars.

      Screw gambling: let’s go back to using cannabis as rural currency!

  3. You make some great points Keith; as usual!

    I only wish the members of congress had at least half of your intellect; you being someone who has used cannabis for many years. What does that say about our favorite herb?

  4. “Just as all states now have some form of legal gambling…”

    Hawaii has ZERO legal gambling forms.

    1. Hawaiian Code seq. 712-1220

      “Social gambling permitted as long as not committed in a hotel, motel, bar, nightclub, or any business establishment or public place. Must be of majority age.”

      Sounds like poker night in Hawaii! Were playin for green!

  5. The justifications for marijuana prohibition never did pass the “smell test.”

    That’s including the so-called “moral” objections, which just don’t hold water, frankly. There are more legitimate religous reasons to be “For” marijuana than “Against” it, as many religious stoners will tell you, right here on the blog.

    I’m not a Christian myself, but I used to be; so I’ve seen first-hand that The Religious Right who object to marijuana are not, in fact, making a moral objection, but rather they are indulging in straight-up judgementalism, something which Jesus very clearly warned us to avoid.

    So it must be something else besides morality that has kept prohibition alive all these years, and I’m pretty sure it’s called money, and hypocrisy!

    And so it makes sense to lump the Christians and the Corporate money-grubbers into the same greasy pile. Once it’s in their financial self-interest to do it, they’ll do it; otherwise they won’t; and all their justifications will follow suit, regardless.

    And so, yes, likely it’s true: with big enough piles of money, the moral arguments against legalization will fade and the economic arguments in favor of it will prevail.

    But it’s going to take a lot more money to buy off the corrupt! Hypothetically, most people would be willing to sacrifice 25 million dollars in new school construction, if you were to offer them, say one million dollars of their very own to piss away on conspicuous consumption. Am I right? When you start throwing millions around, human souls come cheap!

  6. As someone who uses to enhance his creativity, I’m always dumbfounded by the notion that weed is somehow ‘immoral’.

    1. Those that believe using cannabis because it makes one feel better is somehow immoral have much in common with ISIS and the Taliban.

      As a vet that experienced trauma while serving I find that it helps me a lot more than what my doctor once prescribed.

      There is nothing immoral about using a substance that makes you feel better. There is something immoral about treating people as though they are criminals for doing so!

  7. Thanks for pointing up that enigma, the biblegunning “moralists” who hate weed are in bed with Corporate moneygrubbers as @Mark mentioned above.
    (Did you know Aloys Schickelgruber changed his name (and that of his son Adolf, to “Hitler”) because the former name sounded too much like engl. “shekelgrubber”– sort of Jewish?) (O but Adolf had only one ball.)

    Why casino moguls hate cannabis– because increasing numbers of citizens like @Galileo have figured out how to use it to enhance Creativity (as in Gen. 1:29) which is what they REALLY hate. Creativity means spending time with your children, educating, mentoring, instead of leaving them locked in a crib, dressing up fancy and paying snob rich guy $$$ to Consume “adult entertainment” somewhere.
    Gambling means lay out money and wait passively for the machine to let you win even when EVERYBODY knows the odds are “rigged” (which candidate said that?) in favour of the house. Magical thinking, “I’ll beat the odds”, get revenge for stuff magazines taught your mother to do to you when you were an infant (Freud 1856-1939 said that), passive aggression, etc.
    Cannabis legalization will destroy profits in the adult entertainment (casino) industry– and what about Walmart & Co? Binge shoppers go in the store, trick ads lure them to “risk” their money buying overpriced stuff they dream will “solve their problems” or “make them feel good”– just another casino, that also hates weed, figure it out.
    Everyone please go to that merryjane website linked by @Julian above and look at the blotchface photo of Adelson, nuff said.

  8. Please hear me out — I don’t attack Capitalism out of ideology, I’m looking at it from a technical point of view, and I see a dangerous technical glitch regarding cannabis and Capitalism.

    We’ve established that cannabis is medicine. We’ve established that all people, including non-users, have an endocannabinoid system which generates cannabinoids, and that system and the cannabinoids it generates are essential for our health.

    We know that the DEA is trying to isolate and patent specific cannabinoids essential to our health.

    Now please consider the Epipen, and the outragous price-gouging of the necessary medicine, and the way Capitalism promotes that.

    Joseph A. Palmero of Huffington Post puts it better:


    1. I understand your fears Mark, regarding capitalization and cannabis, but what you are describing is unchecked capitalism, which non-synthetic, whole-plant herbal cannabis is naturally resistant to. Thats right; legally regulated cannabis, even with a 6-plant minimum per household is also a natural treatment to prevent and heal unchecked capitalism. Thats not just a panacea, thats holy salvation.
      Any attempt to synthetically patent the individual compounds and molecules from the exocannbinoid has resulted in horrifying failure. Look at marinol; Go ahead FDA; let them patent it. Aint nobody gonna use it more than once before they realize ingesting, vaporizing or smoking natural herb is far, far more effective and safer.
      Or look at K2… THAT was a real synthetic waste of competition. And deadly! How many more fools have to die before we all realize whole-plant marijuana never killed anyone in all recorded history?

      1. So you’re saying, if I understand correctly, that they can’t improve on it, and they can’t prohibit it (to the extent that prohibition has already failed), and so… not exactly game over, but still, we win — more like “checkmate in ten moves!” Wow, I see what you mean. That’s deep, Bro!

        That’s a really good point: cannabis is essentially perfect, as is, and that’s why The Man has never been able to “own” it by modifying it. Other than extracts like hash and oils, any attempt to modify cannabis only fucks it up. (Some purists still insist on the flower. According to Ask-A-Stoner at Westword, Bud is still King over extracts and edibles.) And, it grows just about anywhere, given a chance. All this makes it naturally resistant to corporate greed. Point taken. Point acknowledged.

        Still, Democracy has been unable to put a check on Capitalism. That’s frightening. Is there any other force in nature, other than cannabis, that is even capable of putting a check on Capitalism?

        I know the answer: citizen action. Of all kinds. It’s The People. It’s us.

      2. Try not to use “it” and “they” to start off a post, Mark, but if “they” refers to Big Pharma, and the biopharmaceutical patenting thats going on for synthetics, and “it” refers to whole plant cannabis, then yes, “they” or anyone cannot “improve” on the synergistic homeostatic balance that whole plant cannabis provides by synthesizing unstable compounds which inherently do the opposite effect and create imbalance throughout our organs and endocannabinoid system.
        With this knowledge, marijuana prohibition, privatized pharmaceutical patenting and privatized health care are revealed for the parasitic, unchecked, unbalanced vulture capitalism that it is, where the goal is individual profit, not human health.
        But cannabis gets consumed under prohibition anyway. The herb educates doctors whether they like it or not, with real, clinical results. As a result marijuana is opening our eyes to the way our government functions, and provides us the energy to citizen lobby to create positive laws and socioeconomic equality, therefore creating exponential homeostatic balance throughout human societies.
        I will caution you in the word “modifying.” In legalese, what you really mean is “synthesis,” which is integral to the FDA and patenting approval process. The FDA has become unconstitutionally militarized under a food war between the patenting, prohibition and genetic engineering of private corporate monoculture vs. the the return to a decentralized family variety garden economy, with “6 adult marijuana plants.”
        Democracy doesn’t “check” capitalism. As you surmise, we create Democracy through our participation. All we need is a little mota-vation._\|/_

  9. we all should stand together statitistics show 85 % americans approve medical marijuana how many people lose there lifes to drunk drivers,alcoholism,medical issues from alcohol,etc ..can we say how many people gain a peice of mind from marijuana lets keep it real and stand united i would like to thank norml for the continuing fight for reform

    1. Legalization of Medical Cannabis Federally will have a major affect on Alcoholism and Prescription Pill Abuse. Yes lets stand together and keep fighting the good fight, until federal laws are changed, I believe it will happen in my lifetime.

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