March 13, 2009

The Recession May Accomplish What Common Sense Could Not

California is considering legalization and regulation of marijuana

Last month a California State Assemblyman introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana and establish a taxing structure for the substance. Democrat Tom Ammiano says this would mean millions in tax revenue for the state. Considering that the state is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, the funds from a marijuana tax could prove to be California’s salvation.

All things considered, Ammiano is probably correct. Pot is already the largest cash crop in the state, producing an estimated $14 billion annually and dwarfing all other agricultural production. All but a fraction of this money is black market, with only about $200 million in sales of medical marijuana subject to taxation. In addition to lost tax revenues, there is cost involved with interdiction efforts, and the monetary and human toll of the continuing drug wars along the Mexican border. With legalization would come an end to the revenue loss.

California is one of 13 states allowing marijuana cultivation, possession and sale for certain medical uses, but the feds continue to consider pot illegal under any circumstance. Under the Bush administration, the DEA had the authority to arrest medical marijuana providers in spite of legality under California law. There have been several recent incidents where owners and employees of California legal but federally illegal dispensaries have been arrested, charged and jailed. See one recent story HERE.

But with a change in administration in the White House seems to be coming some rational thought. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced that federal intervention would end, and that states can decide their own rules on medical marijuana. Rep. Ammiano has seized upon this change and is attempting to make the best of it for his state.

The Anti-Saloon League Resurrected

As could be anticipated, however, special interests have pounced. Along with the religious element, the California Peace Officers Association and State Police Chiefs Association have raised all the usual arguments; the same as were used in the early 30’s by the alcohol prohibitionists. It appears to me that the cops' real (but unspoken) argument relates to job security. Once pot is legal, the narcs will have to find a new line of work.

The most common argument is that legalization would promote use. In the 30’s we found this not to be the truth with alcohol, and in fact, the opposite is more likely to be the case. Legally produced and regulated pot will be far more difficult to obtain than that which is currently peddled on the street corner.

The argument ignores the obvious; that pot is readily available even in spite of its illegal status. In an editorial in the Contra Costa Times, columnist Tom Hennessy admits he was once opposed to marijuana legalization. It was due to an interview with retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray, a longtime proponent of legalization, that Hennessy had a change of heart.

Judge Gray was present at the Ammiano press conference announcing the legislation, where he stated "I served 25 years on the bench and I've seen the results of this attempted prohibition. It doesn't make marijuana less available, but it does clog the court system. The stronger we get on marijuana, the softer we get with regard to all other prosecutions because we have only so many resources."

In an earlier interview Judge Gray lamented the financial cost of the unwise laws, estimated to be in excess of $1 billion for California alone, and the lack of effect the laws have had. "We couldn't make this drug any more available if we tried.” Gray further contends that "Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substances to use, to misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They're here to stay. So, let's try to reduce those harms and right now we couldn't do it worse if we tried."

A majority of Californians probably recognize the futility in the anti-legalization arguments, so the likelihood that Ammiano’s bill will pass is high. This could establish a trend and steer us away from the draconian War on Drugs. We can hope.



Anonymous said...

Excellent post, MB.

"Once pot is legal, the narcs will have to find a new line of work."

Maybe not an altogether new line, but certainly a major overhaul. I got a serious chuckle thinking about how the uniforms would "test" for excessive use. . .

Mark said...


Simple. The depletion speed of a plate of cookies left on the side should be a giveaway. The "Munchies" Test, if you will.

Seriously, though, I can't even let myself believe this will pass. I'm really boring, I only ingest caffeine, nicotine and alcohol but the negative effects of the War On Drugs are bloody obvious. A repeal would be a welcome act of sanity.

Rogue Medic said...

Once a state does legalize marijuana, it won't be too long before other state realize that it is not the tragedy the prohibitionists predict.

It may be the only way that we will be able to pay for the bailout. A bale-out for the bail-out. Badump-bump!

chuckr44 said...

Ok, so medical marijuana is legal in CA. Does the new bill make ALL maryjane legal? Your post was not clear on that.

In Michigan, the voters made medical MW legal. The MI legislators are simply working out the details right now. Who can have it? How much can they have in their house? How many plants can they grow? What illnesses really require MW? Do other conventional treatments have to be tried first? Which ones must be tried first? Do you need to carry your prescription for MW on you at all times in case you are stopped by the police?