PITTSFIELD

I am following the marijuana situation in various states with considerable interest. Not because I use it; I don’t. But because while the legal ramifications are interesting enough, the financial and social implications will take precedence, I believe.

A caveat. Like tobacco, I only tried marijuana a few times as a young man. And I did inhale. But I wasn’t a big advocate of it. I’m still not. As I get older, while I understand the allure of a piece of forbidden fruit, I prefer to be more clear-headed these days.

And that’s one of the interesting things about weed, isn’t it? It won’t be forbidden anymore. Yes, yes, I know. Right now, except for Colorado and the state of Washington, it is still restricted to medical use in the states in which it is legal.

But if you think that will be the situation nationwide for more than few years, well, I think you’re wrong. I think marijuana will become as commonplace as cigarettes and alcohol sooner rather than later. Maybe not next year, maybe not the year after, but soon.

Why? Money. All of this will be taxed. I believe the revenue will be considerable. The Colorado Department of Revenue recently released a 60-page report that estimated that legalizing marijuana could raise billions of dollars in tax revenue nationwide. And save billions more in legal costs. Colorado projects more than a half-billion dollars in sales to yield a total of $67 million in state revenue.

According to a report by the Council of the Colorado General Assembly, wholesale transactions taxed at 15 percent will finance school construction projects, while the retail tax of 10 percent will help finance regulation of the industry.

That’s one state. Washington expects about three times that much revenue.

I know, I know. It sure sounds like I’m a doper! My point is that once the money starts coming in, politicians will find it difficult to refute legalization on moral or societal grounds. The specter of being labeled a pothead will be overwhelmed by the reality of bringing more tax revenue into an individual state.

I’ve heard economists say that individual states’ plans to tax the heck out of weed eventually will make it more expensive than black-market marijuana. Regular users will, in theory, return to depending on dope dealers.

They probably have a point. On the other hand, cigarettes have been going up in price exponentially in the past decade, and the number of people who indulge in that black market is about 2 percent. So it doesn’t appear that will be a major factor.

Law enforcement (and many others) believe marijuana is a gateway drug that will lead to further abuse of other drugs. I don’t know enough about that to make a cogent argument. (It wasn’t for me, but I didn’t use it a lot, either.)

I was thinking about something else. So let’s say Massachusetts legalizes pot for recreational use. You’re at a holiday house party with your spouse and kid. Across the room, a guy lights up a joint and, as is the custom, starts passing it around. What the heck do you do in that situation?

Do you take a polite hit in front of your kid? Do you make an angry statement out of smoking a doobie in front of a young person? (As a half-dozen or more people are standing around with drinks in their hands!)

Marijuana may be legal someday, but it may take a while for us to get the drill right.

To reach Derek Gentile:
dgentile@berkshireeagle.com
or (413)496-6251.
On Twitter:@DerekGentile