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Virginia Is for Potheads?

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When this country got torpedoed by the Great Recession of 2007, we experienced the largest collapse in state revenues on record. Now, nearly two years after the bottom fell out of the economy, all but four states have been forced to cut services for residents. More than 30 states have raised taxes and 29 still face budget shortfalls.

Among the states struggling to dig itself out of the financial abyss is Virginia, whose budget deficit reached $2 billion in 2012. Even at 8.3% growth in 2011, Virginia won’t fully restore its losses from the recession until 2019.

But David Englin, a Democratic delegate from Arlington, is unwilling to wait seven more years for a recovery and has a creative proposal to give Virginia’s economy an instant shot of adrenaline. It’s House Joint Resolution 140 and it’s raising eyebrows among some of his fellow lawmakers and constituents.

Englin wants Virginia's state-owned liquor outlets, called ABC stores, to start selling marijuana.

At least, for now, he wants the General Assembly to allow for a study on the economic impact of the sale and taxing of pot in Virginia as well as the feasibility and practicality of legalization.  

“Right now, people are smoking marijuana, Englin told his local CBS affiliate. “Respectable members of society are out there secretly purchasing and smoking marijuana and the money they spend on that is going into the hands of criminals. So this legislation just seeks to find out how much money we could potentially be raising to fund core services of the Commonwealth.”

“What’s next? Selling it at Walmart (WMT)?” countered Wayne Frith of Substance Abuse Free Environment (SAFE) who believes marijuana’s health and safety implications are far too serious to allow this measure to pass.

Northern Virginia resident Bernard Hill thinks the proposal is “crazy” and opposes his tax dollars being spent to explore it. All told, the study, taken on by a joint subcommittee, would set the state back a little more than $15,000.

Hill may not be familiar with the old business adage “You have to spend money to make money” because if he was, he may be more comfortable knowing what kind of a return he’d be guaranteed on his investment. In 2011 alone, states like Colorado and California -- where medical marijuana is legal -- reaped $1.7 billion in sales.

To put this figure into perspective, consider that Pfizer (PFE) made $1.9 billion off Viagra -- which is legal everywhere.
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