Legal weed in Ohio could raise more than $550 million in tax revenue for the state by 2020, according to figures released Tuesday by the advocacy group ResponsibleOhio, the organization behind a proposed November ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. The measure is expected to draw debate over whether legalizing marijuana in Ohio would reduce prison populations and provide a steady cash flow to local governments, as the plan's proponents have promised.
"Ohioans already spend as much as a couple billion dollars each year on illegal marijuana, while our communities are simply not seeing the benefits," Lydia Bolander, a spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio, told the Dayton Business Journal. "That money could be in the hands of local governments and small businesses instead of drug dealers."
The group’s projections came from economics firm Burke, Rosen & Associates, based in Cleveland. The figures were based in part on consumption patterns in Colorado, which began selling legal weed in January 2014 and saw $53 million in tax revenue from last year’s sales. Ohio’s population is roughly double that of Colorado.
In November, Ohio voters could determine whether the state goes all-in with marijuana, legalizing both recreational and medical pot. If passed, the measure would make Ohio the first state to go from total prohibition on weed to full legalization.
However, it’s unclear whether Ohio voters would approve a ballot initiative legalizing pot. Support for marijuana legalization in Midwest states tends to be lower than in other parts of the country, including the South. A recent Gallup survey found that just 45 percent of Midwest voters support legalizing marijuana, compared with 47 percent in the South and 51 percent of Americans overall.
Some Ohio public officials would be happy to have the extra cash on hand from legal marijuana sales, but are skeptical about full legalization, according to the Chronicle-Telegram. “We could always use the money, but I just don’t think that’s the right way to do it,” North Ridgeville Mayor Dave Gillock told the paper.