What should Oregon fund by exploiting people’s addictions?

Dan Lucas_July 2012_BW

by Dan Lucas

Oregon has now passed Ballot Measure 91, legalizing the use of marijuana. Oregonians voted 56% to 44% to allow the “possession, manufacture and sale of marijuana by/to adults, subject to state licensing, regulation, and taxation.” Projected marijuana tax revenues are between $17 million and $40 million annually.

After covering around $3 million per year in OLCC operating expenses, the marijuana taxes collected will be distributed as follows: “40% to the Common School Fund, 20% to the Mental Health Alcoholism and Drug Services Account, 15% to the State Police Account, 10% to cities for law enforcement, 10% to counties for law enforcement, and 5% to the Oregon Health Authority for alcohol and drug abuse prevention, early intervention and treatment services.”

Most of those distributions make sense — they are to deal with the ramifications of legalizing marijuana. The one distribution that doesn’t make sense, however, is allocating 40% to the Common School Fund. That’s a projected $11 million to $30 million per biennium for K-12 public schools from the new marijuana taxes — a drop in the bucket in the state’s $6.5 billion contribution to K-12 funding. This was clearly a sweetener to help the measure pass, but is it ethical?

The American Lung Association in Colorado, where marijuana was recently legalized, reports that nationally “9% of those who try marijuana will become addicted” and that about “2.7 million people in the U.S. meet clinical criteria for marijuana dependence.”

A February 2014 White House report shows the number of chronic marijuana users in the U.S. has grown 66% in ten years — from 10.6 million in 2000 to 17.6 million in 2010.

According to another White House report, Oregon ranks first among all states for drug use in a number of categories. That same report shows that marijuana leads the state in the number of drug abuse treatment admissions.

Taxes collected from marijuana should be used primarily to help those struggling with marijuana dependence or addiction. It’s also reasonable to use those taxes to provide for any additional law enforcement needed to properly regulate a now-legalized marijuana. What’s far more questionable, though, is whether it’s OK to use “blood money” from people struggling with marijuana dependence or addiction to fund Oregon schools.

This quandary already exists with other Oregon revenues, including the Oregon Lottery and liquor revenues.

A 2010 article by The Oregonian reported that “Half of lottery profits from video games come from about 10 percent of its players, who lose $500 or more every month,” and video lottery makes up almost 90 percent of lottery earnings. That means that much of the $830 million of Lottery Funds in the state budget is coming on the backs of people struggling with gambling addictions.

The state general fund also gets around $200 million from liquor sales each biennium. Nationally, 15 percent of alcohol users become addicted.

These are very questionable ways for us to be contributing to our children’s education, and they should leave all Oregonians feeling a bit uneasy.

To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com