BATON ROUGE,LA — Marijuana isn't a laughing matter, but it is big business.
According to "High Times" magazine more than 20 million pounds of marijuana is smoked in the state of Louisiana every year. It's estimated that if the government legalized it and taxed it, it could bring in billions of dollars to a state that has dealt with severe cuts to both higher education and healthcare over the last several years.
"With alcohol being legal - it's legal and being taxed – and that brings revenue to the state,” stated Libertarian Party representative Wes Benedict. “We should do the same thing with marijuana - legalize it and tax it."
However, not everyone feels the pros outweigh the cons. Some believe that if marijuana is legalized, it'll eventually lead to people to use harder drugs and commit crimes to support their habit.
"You run a risk when you legalize it,” said Pastor Charles Wallace. “You give access to a lot of people who may not be a ‘recreational use’ person that might not be able to handle it; they may graduate onto more hard drugs."
But Benedict argues that studies he's seen don't make that link. He also argues that most of the people who are locked up for marijuana use are non-violent offenders and therefore aren't a threat to society. He says letting them out of jail would save Louisiana more than $20,000 per inmate, which is big money when you consider that Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation.
"Studies have shown that arresting and keeping people in jail for marijuana offenses costs as much as $10 billion," said Benedict.
Wallace argues that despite the possible economic benefits that may come from legalizing pot, the downside is much greater, “It may have those short term benefits. It may create jobs, businesses and revenue. But I think the long term effect of it is not worth it."