Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico turned leading soldier for the cannabis industry, cautions states seeking to legalize cannabis markets to avoid subscribing to the regulatory model currently underway in Washington State.
During a recent interview with The Oregonian, Johnson, the CEO of Cannabis Sativa, a company specializing in edible medical marijuana products, said that while he applauds Washington for being a front-runner in statewide legalization, their regulatory system is a disaster, and other states looking to legalize recreational marijuana should avoid copycatting their mistakes.
“They have screwed it up as bad as they possibly can,” said Johnson. “They have taxed it to the level where if you are a prior user of marijuana, prior to it being legal in Washington, you are still consuming it on the black market because of how expensive it is. It’s the worst-case scenario and they have it playing out in Washington State.”
Instead of making tax revenue the primary focus of legalization, Johnson advises states to consider the overall benefit of ending prohibition. He urges local governments to consider that in addition to the revenue they will generate from even the most modest tax rate, they will also incur a substantial savings by not clogging up the criminal justice system.
“The tax revenue from marijuana gets dwarfed by the savings in law enforcement, the courts and prisons,” Johnson explained. “You are moving the entire industry from a black market. You have all those incomes that are going to be reported to the IRS. Completely forget about tax revenue from the products.”
“All the other ancillary affects are more positive than the tax revenue,” he continued. “If there were no tax revenue at all we would be way, way ahead because of all of those other things.”
Johnson, who recently announced plans to run again for President in 2016, also gave his thoughts on whether the issue of marijuana would determine the outcome of the next presidential race. Although he remains somewhat skeptical about whether the issue will carry a substantial amount of weight, he is hopeful this could change.
“If Hilary (Clinton) is the nominee and Jeb (Bush) is the nominee, I hope to run for president and if I do, I think it might receive a lot more attention,” said Johnson. “What we have moved to now is ‘I don’t do it and I hate it and it’s horrible,’ but we will leave it to the states. That seems to be the new political safe haven.”