According to a piece that appeared a couple of years back in The (Philadelphia) Inquirer, authorities in Pennsylvania were arresting about 21,000 people annually for possession of marijuana, and another 5,500 for growing pot.

The column by Chris Goldstein, an editor at Freedom Leaf magazine, cited a report from the RAND Corp. think tank that estimated it costs $1,266 for the handling of every basic misdemeanor marijuana arrest.

That number jumps to $8,600 for each prosecution of someone accused of growing the plant. Based on those figures, it estimated that Pennsylvania was spending more than $73 million a year on those cases, and that doesn’t include the costs of jail, prison and supervision of those sentenced to probation.

But what if cash-strapped Pennsylvania could not only wipe out those costs, but also reap millions from marijuana?

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the state could earn $200 million a year by permitting recreational marijuana use and taxing it.

At a news conference earlier this week, the auditor general noted that Colorado, with less than half the population of our state, is pulling in about $129 million annually through taxes on the cultivation and purchase of marijuana. In Washington state, that figure is $220 million.

DePasquale isn’t foolish enough to think such a move would find easy sledding in our Legislature, which has never had a reputation for being particularly visionary — or productive, for that matter.

“It is an entirely fair and appropriate question to say, can this ever happen in Pennsylvania?” he said.

In fact, it took years of pleas and protests from advocates before the Legislature finally approved use of medical marijuana in 2016, and that option won’t even be available to those who need it until next year, if all goes well.

“We don’t even have the medical cannabis program up and running yet, so it’s clearly a little premature to jump to the next step,” House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“While we’re appreciative of the auditor general’s multiple policy thoughts, as Pennsylvania and the nation is facing a serious drug problem, I’m not sure that legalizing a Schedule I narcotic is the best response.”

The Schedule I designation is part of the problem here. Despite more than half of our states having approved medical marijuana use, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, according to the Post-Gazette report, lumps marijuana in with heroin and LSD as drugs that have “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

To us, that’s foolish. It seems clear, just from anecdotal evidence, that marijuana does, indeed, have valuable medical applications, and its dangers are much less than those of LSD and heroin.

It’s also our belief marijuana use exacts a lesser toll on our society than the use, or abuse, of alcohol.

And in Pennsylvania, alcohol is not just legal. Its sale is state-sanctioned through our archaic state store system, and our leaders in Harrisburg have seen fit to expand its availability to more outlets, such as grocery stores.

As with alcohol, legal sales of marijuana would be restricted to adults, and it still would be illegal for someone to get high and get behind the wheel of a car.

For those who say that legalizing marijuana would make it easier for kids to get the drug, we would reply that those who are interested aren’t having any trouble getting it now, just as those who want a bottle of vodka can get their hands on it despite the controls inherent in the state store system.

Our state needs to stop wasting millions on arresting, prosecuting and punishing people for possession of marijuana, and it would seem the next logical step is to make its consumption legal, and to tax it for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians.

Original article via TheCannabist