For years it has been suggested by individuals such as Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan that cannabis legalisation could potentially be worth hundreds of millions of euros to the Irish economy each year.
This claim was recently backed up by the UCD Professor of Economics Ronald Davies. Speaking at the Think Big event last year the economist suggested that cannabis legalisation could be worth around €560 million a year.
This figure according to Professor Davies can be considered a conservative estimate, so it is likely the actual benefit would be more than half a billion each year.
Across the globe black market activities made up of drug dealing and prostitution are starting to appear in reports relating to a countries GDP, in order to gauge their worth.
In 2013 prostitution and drugs accounted for around €1.2 billion to Ireland’s economic activity according to the CSO. However the methodology for achieving this has not been revealed, so its accuracy maybe questionable, but it offers a rough figure.
But this figure does seem to back up both Luke’s and Professor Davies’s claims of a regulated industry being worth hundreds of millions to the economy each year.
Of course there are unforeseen costs and consequences with every action, no less so when it involves changes to tax regimes.
So while there maybe this potential income of €500m, without a thorough full costs benefit analysis, and without seeing the process in action, it is hard to gauge what other taxes maybe affected.
For example if suddenly we saw a drop in the sale of cigarettes and alcohol due to cannabis sales, then one would have to take into account the revenue lost from these products. Both of these products are long considered the old reliables by Finance ministers due to their income raising.
On the Irish Cannabis News page and on the comment sections of various news sites, one can often find an individual claiming cannabis legalisation would end the recession/austerity.
Sadly such claims go up in smoke when looking at the figures involved. The current gap between income and expenditure in the state is around six billion and this is after years of dramatic cuts.
However all things being equal, and if we accept the claims suggesting cannabis legalisation is worth €500 million, then while it wouldn’t close the gap fully, it would dent it at least.
Regardless, half a billion euro is not something to scoff at. While the money raised would not end the economic crisis, it would offer some relief, especially if the money was invested in the correct areas.
Colarado which enjoyed its first year of legalisation in 2014 has seen its coffers boosted.
The data shows that in 2014 from both recreational and medicinal sales, plus business fees, Colorado brought in around $70 million in revenue. This is from sales worth over $700 million. Another benefit was the almost 10,000 jobs which were created in Colorado thanks to this new industry.
The $70 million figure doesn’t appear to take into account the other offshoots of tax intake that would arise from people spending in other industries. Such as people purchasing gardening supplies, tourist revenue to hotels and local businesses, the spending power of 10,000 new workers, and so on.
Once the data has emerged and been analysed then the next few years will offer full insight into how a legal cannabis industry has changed Colorado’s economy. I expect many will be pleasantly surprised of its value.
We also have other states aside from Colorado which will also be revealing interesting data over the coming years.
If you are interested in finding out how many tons of cannabis was sold, the amount of edibles sold and other tidbits, then there is a trove of data relating to Colorado here
As stated earlier €500 million is a significant amount of money. In the Irish context half a billion euro could go a long way.
In 2014 the state’s health budget overran by around half a billion. As we have seen with the crisis ongoing in emergency departments and elsewhere, the health service is arguably underfunded, or grossly mismanaged, if not both.
Ring-fencing monies raised from cannabis for areas like schooling, health and education, as proposed by Colorado, would not only be likely welcomed by all, but also be beneficial to improving these areas.
However there is an obvious elephant in the room, in terms of cash crops, and that is the hemp plant.
Arguably this is another industry with the potential to add billions to the coffers over the coming years. The many wide uses for the plant means there are countless industries that could grow or be created with a thriving hemp industry.
A hemp industry arguably has expediential potential for growth, meaning once it was thriving with factories, suppliers, distributors and consumers it could be worth as much as a cannabis industry, if not more.
While a thriving legal cannabis industry maybe a few years off yet, arguably we can begin moves to create a thriving hemp industry much sooner.
Hemp is already legal to grow here, and it is sown on Irish soil. However the lack of processing factories, and other factors, plus little political enthusiasm for a hemp industry means it is a miuch neglected and undervalued industry.
It seems incredible that we have the potential to perhaps add a billion to our coffers each year with cannabis and hemp. Yet perhaps even more incredible there is little political or public outcry (outside of activists and some farmers) for a hemp industry.
Of course since we are now gearing up for general elections here, perhaps we can get these cash crops on the agenda.
Cannabis and hemp arguably offer us a unique opportunity to grow Ireland’s economy. However the benefits are not just economic but perhaps such moves would be healthy beneficial, environmentally beneficially and much more.
The revenue raising argument for regulating and developing a cannabis or hemp industry shouldn’t be the central, or sole one. However for some individuals realisation of the economic benefits maybe one way for them to reconsider their views.
Money talks, sadly. So it maybe time for activists to pull at the purse strings, and not the heartstrings.