Crunching the Cannabis Numbers

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Crunching the Cannabis Numbers

Economist: Rapidly growing injuries is creating thousands of jobs, but not a tax windfall for states

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Legal marijuana would create money and jobs, but maybe not as many as you think.

Oregon economist Beau Whitney works with New Frontier Data, which focuses on bringing hard numbers to the cannabis debate. He told a Indiana Economic Development Association conference the cannabis industry has created a quarter-million jobs in the 33 states where it's legal, and predicts the rapid growth of the industry will nearly triple that number in seven years. If cannabis were legalized nationally, he says, you could double that figure to 1.4 million jobs. 

But Whitney says the taxes on legal marijuana have typically accounted for just .3% of state revenue. In Indiana, that'd translate to about $50 million a year, less than a quarter of what the state collects in cigarette taxes. 

And Whitney warns not all the pot business will move aboveground. If states ratchet taxes too high or make regulations too expensive to comply with, he says many customers will keep buying from dealers.

New Frontier's surveys find one in 10 Americans uses cannabis, including CBD products. Whitney says in states which have legalized medical marijuana, prescriptions for opioid painkillers have dropped 10%, and opioid deaths have dropped more than one-fourth.

And Whitney says states thinking about legalizing need to consider the strain on the power grid, and whether they have enough electricity to handle it. He says marijuana is the most energy-intensive crop grown in the U.S. -- nationally, it consumes nearly two-thirds of what Indiana generates in a year.

Whitney says the power drain will decrease if marijuana operations shift to greenhouses or outdoor fields.

(Photo: Don MacKinnon/AFP via Getty Images)

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