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President Bush and the two leading presidential contenders were urging lawmakers to take one for the good of the country Tuesday and pass a highly unpopular Wall Street bailout package.

Some drug-reform advocates, meanwhile, were suggesting that a better way out of the current financial mess would be to toke one for the country.

“Society could get a great deal of funding by bringing cannabis into our society,” said Gary Storck, co-founder of the Madison chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

More specifically, legalizing and taxing marijuana and industrial hemp could open up a lucrative revenue stream and help offset a $700 billion taxpayer outlay to save the country’s financial system.

“Why not look at it?” said Storck, who likens the idea to President Roosevelt’s support for ending prohibition during the Depression.  “We need the money.  How else are we going to get it?”

The possible fiscal boon of legalizing marijuana has long been an argument put forth by NORML and like-minded groups, who point to studies showing that the government could be billions of dollars to the good if it taxed the plant and ended its marijuana-related law enforcement efforts.

Bruce Mirken, director of communications with the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said legalization and regulation could mean between $10 billion and $40 billion a year to state and federal budgets.

“The bottom line is we have a very large industry in this country …  that is entirely untaxed and unregulated,” he said.

Storck and Mirken said there was no organized effort by pro-marijuana groups to lobby for legalization as a way out of the current fiscal crisis, but Storck said he will be talking up the fiscal benefits of legalization at this weekend’s Harvest Festival in Madison.

Mirken also said that his group’s lobbyist has been talking to lawmakers about the issue and, like Storck, drawing parallels to the repeal of Prohibition during the Depression.

A spokesman for U.S.  Rep.  Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, the ranking Republican member of the House Budget Committee, said Ryan didn’t have a comment on the suggestion that legalization of marijuana could help pay for the bailout.


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