It’s the Pot Economy, Stupid

It looks like the pot debate just got real. As the nation faces its worst economic crisis in generations, California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced a trailblazing bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Hard on the heels of Michael Phelps’ nationally-resonant bong demo, Ammiano’s gesture is a whole lot more intentional. One hopes it will stir the long-overdue national examination of the financial and human price that we pay for criminalizing pot.

The most widely used illicit drug in the western world, marijuana is a fact of life that’s been sampled by upwards of 100,000,000 Americans. Officially prohibited since 1937, we finally seem on the threshold of a promising moment in our nation’s tortured relationship to the drug. On November 4 alone, Massachusetts decriminalized personal pot use, Michigan became the thirteenth state to allow its medical use, and we elected a president who’s openly admitted to smoking it. National polls and the yawn that greeted the Phelps media frenzy indicate that Americans are reconciled to pot’s largely benign role in our culture.

Nevertheless, the mindless prohibition enforcement machine rolls on. In 2007, over 800,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes (nearly 90 percent of them for possession), with upwards of 85,000 of them serving sentences in jail or prison. In the U.S., incredibly there are more arrests for marijuana possession each year than for all violent crimes combined. This astounding human toll from enforcing the ban on marijuana costs taxpayers roughly $8 billion each year. And those wasted resources are further compounded by the total capitulation of the massive pot market to an underground economy to gangsters who laugh all the way to the bank.

Amidst a national economic meltdown, California’s budget turmoil is the worst in the nation. After an excruciating three-month deadlock, the dysfunctional Sacramento legislature closed a $42 billion deficit by slashing aid to the most vulnerable in the state, raising a host of taxes and fees, and kicking the can down the road with billions more in borrowing. Meanwhile, California’s largest cash crop was studiously avoided in the frenzied search for politically-viable revenue sources. California’s marijuana yield is conservatively valued at $13.8 billion annually – nearly double the value of the state’s vegetable and grape crops combined.

Reformers have long complained that massive marijuana revenues are routinely ceded to criminal syndicates. But that’s how prohibition works, until we come to our senses. The U.S. ended alcohol prohibition just over 75 years ago, when its failure could no longer be ignored. That unfortunate social experiment triggered a host of familiar outcomes – mass imprisonment, unchecked violence, official corruption, and routine violation of the law by millions of Americans. But what finally hastened its demise in 1933 was the Depression itself, as public opinion and a progressive new president insisted the waste of resources and potential revenue had to stop.

The sheer scale of our current fiscal misery demands a similar reality check: Marijuana already plays a huge role in the California and national economies. It’s a revenue opportunity we literally can’t afford to ignore any longer. It’s time to end the unjust charade of marijuana prohibition, tax this flourishing multi-billion dollar market, and redirect criminal justice resources to matters of real public safety. Assemblyman Ammiano has done an enormous service by breaking the silence on this common-sense solution.

– Article from Alternet.org on March 3, 2009.

Comments

10 Comments

  1. Anonymous on

    Ok people. I smoke pot all day and dont think completly legalizing it is the right choice. Lets think about fed regulated pot. it will be regulated, the grade will go down the prices will remain ruffly the same. it will be sold on every corner easier for our kids to get, i dont want my three getting it. the money they will make will be on the amount of dui’s because its in our system for so long and they smelled some pot in your car wether or not its really there. on top of that the revenue from the ilegal growing that will take place, because we the people cant grow it our selves, its will be fed regulated. legalizing pot for more the med use is!!!! ALL BAD PEOPLE!!!! dont let them rob us of what we have that is already good.

  2. Anonymous on

    Ok people. I smoke pot all day. Lets think about fed regulated pot. it will be regulated, the grade will go down the prices will remain ruffly the same. it will be sold on every corner easier for our kids to get, i dont want my three getting it. the money they will make will be on the amount of dui’s because its in our system for so long and they smelled some pot in your car wether or not its really there. on top of that the revenue from the ilegal growing that will take place, because we the people cant grow it our selves, its will be fed regulated. legalizing pot for more the med use is!!!! ALL BAD PEOPLE!!!! dont let them rob us of what we have that is already good.

  3. Anonymous on

    While the value of the ilegal cannabis trade in cali. is estimated at 13 billion, the estimate of the legal value off taxes is one billion+, thats not including the tourism it would bring. While it is legal and easy to make your own beer how many people actually do it? It is much more convenient to just go to the store. Plus while about anyone can grow their own decent pot, the pot you’d be able to buy in stores would be a much higher grade. The bill would make it leagal to grow but only out of public view so you’d have to have a greenhouse or indoor setup, again much more convenient to go to a store. Even though i hope this bill does pass, I seriously doubt it will, either way it is the first step and its about time that someone took it. 420 Hero of the year- Tom Ammiano

  4. Anonymous on

    I admit that I don’t have the knowledge of advanced growing techniques to form surface tricromes, whatever those are. But, anyone with decent seeds, soil, sunlight, and water can grow very good pot for almost nothing. Since it’s not a crime to make our own beer or wine, or grow our own tobacco, it shouldn’t be a crime to grow our own weed. Eventually, even marijuana lovers will recognize this and realize that their preference should not be treated any differently than other recreational drugs. We don’t have to put up with being punished by artificially high prices and taxes.

  5. Anonymous on

    Alcohol can get one high to the point of incapacitation, yet many alcohol products are quite inexpensive. Why should it be any different with pot? Yes, there will be premium varieties that fetch a higher price just as there are premium wines and whiskeys, but decent quality weed is very inexpensive to produce. Why should the smoking material that’s addictive and kills 400,000 people a year in the USA be the one that’s dirt cheap? Why should a plant that’s no more costly to grow and process than tobacco cost 10-20x more? Why should a home-grower of cannabis have to pay for a license when home brewers of beer, wine makers, or home tobacco growers don’t? Why should marijuana be subject to especially high taxes when other recreational drugs aren’t? Stupid people want to know.

  6. Anonymous on

    It would be stupid to assume that pot prices would drop to the levels of tobacco if it were legalized. First and foremost pot gets you high unlike tobacco which only gets you hooked by chemicals pumped in by companies. Secondly im sure laws would be put into place that would require the purchase of a license to sell pot much like it is with tobacco and alcahol. Your average drug cartels would not be able to compete with American Corporations massively producing high quality bud. If said major company invested into the growth and manufacture of good pot not only would it create jobs but people would also pay good money for the drug. The weed could also be exported to other countries and could really bring a lot of money back to the United States. It would be ignorant to ignore this or assume that it wouldn’t be fruitful… come on guys imagine the job creation and then endless research possibilities this would open up.

  7. Anonymous on

    I think they would have to come up with something that keeps it a crime to cultivate. That and the fact that not many would have the knowledge to be able to use advanced growing techniques to form surface trichromes, for instance.

  8. Anonymous on

    While I’m all for legalizing weed and taxing it like tobacco and alcohol, I wonder at the estimates of the market value of $13 billion in Cali. In a legal environment, won’t pot be very abundant and very cheap? Aren’t these estimates based on the grossly inflated prices of the black market? It seems to me that legal marijuana will be inexpensive to grow and process, perhaps comparable to the cost of tobacco farming, so why should an ounce of marijuana retail for any more than an ounce of tobacco, all taxes included? Why should pot be taxed at Ammiano’s proposed $50/ounce when an ounce of tobacco, about two packs of cigarettes, totals less than $3 in state and federal taxes? I think that proponents of legalization are not looking at the reality of costs in a legal world. Have we become so acclimated to outrageously high black market prices that we think this inexpensive-to-grow plant is worth it’s weight in gold?

  9. Anonymous on

    I can’t understand why President Franklin D. Roosevelt is revered as some sort of herbal saviour. The fact is he was President when marijuana became illegal.

    All that happened in 1933 and 1937 was the exchange of one very unpopular prohibition for less politically dangerous one. Then all those unemployed “revenooers” could keep their jobs. This was the Great Depression and jobs were scarce.

    Of course pot should be legalized and taxed just as cigarettes and booze are. But with asset forfeitures, court costs, legal expenses, and so on law enforcement is much better off with the status quo. So I don’t think legalizatiion will happen anytime soon because God knows that would be wise government and we can’t have that.