In California, the time is ripe to pick marijuana legalization from the field of taboo political issues. Indeed, this month has seen the development of two significant events in support of the legalization of recreational marijuana use.
First, the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, promised to turn a blind eye to California’s prospering medical marijuana dispensary business. Federal officials insist, however, that their permissiveness will not extend beyond medical marijuana. But legalization supporters are interpreting this new lax policy as a go-ahead for states to fully legalize the herb. Last Thursday in Sacramento, legislation was reviewed that would do just that. The bill, written by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, proposes the legalization of weed in California for adults 21 and over with regulations similar to those of alcohol. The bill stipulates a $50 per ounce fee and a 9 percent tax on all marijuana sales. The tax is designed to levy money for the state — approximately $1.3 billion annually — while maintaining low enough prices to put illegal cartels out of business.
Ammiano’s proposal, once considered laudable, is finding support in Sacramento from the most unexpected sources, and why shouldn’t it? With the state in fiscal ruins, Republicans and Democrats alike should be looking toward California’s largest cash crop to close the deficit. As of 2006, there were over 21 million marijuana plants harvested in California that produced $14 billion — nearly twice the value of the state’s grape and vegetable crops combined. The market already exists and it is thriving, so why should it go untaxed?
Beyond helping the treasury, marijuana legalization could also lower California’s rampant crime rates. Border conflicts between drug cartels are at an all time high; the resulting violence has killed more than 6,000 Americans since 2006. Weed legalization would put these drug gangs out of business by selling the same product at lower prices. Annually, California makes more than 78,500 marijuana-related arrests and, as a result, spends 9 percent of its budget on prisons. This overspending and prison overcrowding are unnecessary and unsustainable; weed legalization is the most viable solution to the state’s endemic law enforcement spending.
Detractors have called the potential profit from weed legalization “blood money,” claiming that marijuana is a gateway drug and that legalization “sends the wrong message.” But how accurate are these arguments? The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists 400,000 annual deaths from tobacco, 100,000 from alcohol, and zero from marijuana. In fact, there never has been a recorded death attributed to marijuana. As for the myth that weed is a gateway drug, it is true that there is a correlation between marijuana use and the use of other illegal drugs, but there is no scientific evidence to suggest a causal relationship. While pot can cause lethargy and short-term memory loss, the production-obsessive nature of a capitalistic system should not criminalize the occasional guilty pleasure of inactivity and forgetfulness; the disincentive of taxation will suffice.
Today, 56 percent of Californians back legalization. Like a weed, supporters have shown up unexpected and uninvited on people’s lawns. They bear information pamphlets and petitions; the leading one already has over 300,000 signatures. In an opportunistic climate, legalization supporters have sewn the seeds of success that may bare fruition with the passage of Ammiano’s bill or even on next year’s ballots.