Will Legalizing Pot Save California from its Cash Crunch?

California state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has announced the introduction of legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcoholic beverages. The bill, the first of its kind ever introduced in California, would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine, and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

Estimates based on federal government statistics have shown marijuana to be California’s top cash crop, valued at approximately $14 billion in 2006 — nearly twice the combined value of the state’s number two and three crops, vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion) — in spite of massive “eradication” efforts that wipe out an average of nearly 36,000 cultivation sites per year without making a dent in this underground industry.

Ammiano introduced the measure at a San Francisco press conference this morning, saying, “With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense. This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes,” said Ammiano. “California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.”

“It is simply nonsensical that California’s largest agricultural industry is completely unregulated and untaxed,” said Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith, who also spoke at the news conference. “With our state in an ongoing fiscal crisis — and no one believes the new budget is the end of California’s financial woes — it’s time to bring this major piece of our economy into the light of day.”

Independent experts from around the world, from President Nixon’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse in 1972 to a Canadian Senate special committee in 2002, have long contended that criminalizing marijuana users makes little sense, given that marijuana is less addictive, much less toxic, and far less likely to induce aggression or violence than alcohol. For example, in an article in the December 2008 Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Australian researcher Stephen Kisely noted that “penalties bear little relation to the actual harm associated with cannabis.”

Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

– Article from Alternet.org.

An easy, and realistic idea for smoking our deficit

by The Daily Democrat

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, may be ridiculed for his idea, but it’s worth considering if only for its novelty.
Instead of keeping it illegal to sell marijuana, legalize its sale to those over 21 years old, and tax it.

This idea of creating another “sin tax” is not new. We already do it with cigarettes and tobacco, but have shied away from going after what is considered a “narcotic,” like marijuana — probably because law enforcement and growers like the money that comes their way. Law enforcement would have to redirect their anti-drug teams against real crimes, and growers would see their enormous profits taxed.

However, the time may have come to consider Ammiano’s idea officially. His Assembly Bill 390 would charge cannabis wholesalers $5,000 initially and $2,500 annually for the right to distribute weed. Retail outlets would pay fees of $50 per ounce of cannabis to generate revenue for drug education programs statewide. The bill would prohibit cannabis near schools. It also would ban smoking it in public places or growing it in public view. Millions in revenue could be used by the state for health programs — and more.

We should have learned our lesson years ago when the nation tried to prohibit the sale of alcohol. As a result we saw a growth in organized crime. The same thing has occurred with the criminalization of minor drugs such as marijuana, which is a lot less harmful than some of the pills popped by those suffering back pain.

“Marijuana already plays a huge role in the California economy,” Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance was quoted as saying this week. “It’s a revenue opportunity we literally can’t afford to ignore any longer.”

Let’s admit our present drug policy is a failure and try something new. Let’s tax the state’s largest cash crop.

– Article from The Daily Democrat.

As We See It: Should pot be legalized?

by Santa Cruz Sentinel

We don’t think we’d be accused of “smoking weed” to venture that Santa Cruz would solidly be in favor of the state of California legalizing marijuana.

State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill that would regulate marijuana like alcohol, with people over 21 years old allowed to grow, buy, sell and possess cannabis. All these activities are illegal under federal law, which probably would not be affected by state legalization, which also is unlikely for the present.

Ammiano says taxes and other fees associated with regulating pot could put more than a billion dollars a year into state coffers at a time California really needs the money.

Here’s a couple of points to think about in favor of legalizing weed:

The drug would be highly regulated. Does anyone believe kids don’t have easy access to marijuana today? Or that it’s easier to get than, say, alcohol?

Legalizing pot would end costly anti-drug programs and cut down the criminal element associated with smuggling and selling pot.

In Santa Cruz, where voters have already directed the city to make enforcement of marijuana laws its lowest priority, and where dispensing medical marijuana continues despite opposition from the federal government, the world has not ended, nor has public safety visibly been endangered.
The widespread use of readily available pot — hello, Michael Phelps — has fostered a contempt for laws people don’t agree with.

The Prohibition movement nearly a century ago that made booze illegal is instructive: the government cannot successfully regulate personal behavior.

But the arguments against legalizing marijuana also are persuasive.

It’s unlikely the federal government would just stand by. The feds have so far refused to recognize local decisions concerning legalized medical pot, so why would they approve recreational use of the drug? President Barack Obama, who has admitted drug use in his youthful past, has stated he is not in favor of legalization.

The last thing our society needs is another means for addictive personalities to sink further into oblivion.

While pro-pot proponents always say that marijuana is not addictive, most of us know people who have spent too many years toking up. This addictive use of the drug changes their behavior and personalities and can lead to wide-ranging personal problems that end up having a huge cost to society.

Is marijuana as dangerous as alcohol? Based on the statistics about auto accidents, domestic violence and other anti-social behavior, the answer clearly is “no.”

It’s worth considering making it legal.

– Article from Santa Cruz Sentinel on February 25, 2009.