Sunday, November 8, 2009

Puff, Puff, Pass: Another Win for Weed

Former President Jimmy Carter once remarked, “Whatever starts in California, unfortunately has an inclination to spread.” For better or worse, President Carter’s words have rang especially true in recent days as Maine became the fifth state to follow California’s lead in approving the use of medical marijuana. Dozens of other states and municipalities have approved reduced fines or sentencing periods for marijuana related offenses. Political opponents of legalization point to California – most notably Los Angeles County – as proof that regulated cannabis outlets and relaxation of marijuana penalties are bad policies. As the County climbs to the number 5 spot in the state with more than 340,000 marijuana plants uprooted this year, and exponentially more marijuana dispensaries than any other city, I must ask the question that no self-respecting, blue-state twenty-four year old dares ponder: have Californians begun to overindulge?

Officials say that the increase in seizures can be largely attributed to Mexican drug cartels that have sought a location north of the border, but still in close proximity to their market. Smugglers on a north-south commute find the path of least resistance in Southern California. The notorious “Emerald Triangle” of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties has been a traditional safe haven for recreational and occupational growers alike. But an increased presence from law enforcement entities, especially the California Highway Patrol and area US Border Patrol agencies, have shifted operations to a cultivated and secluded 8-mile stretch of Angeles Crest Highway in North LA County, where about 150,000 plants were recently uncovered and destroyed.

As the number of seizures continues to climb, it undoubtedly spells trouble for many local medical marijuana dispensaries. Almost 1000 such dispensaries have found a home in Los Angeles since 2002. Last month, LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich announced intentions to prosecute any distributor of marijuana that does so for a profit, and warned Los Angeles city dispensaries to prepare for eventual raids. These efforts were widely seen as a tactic to sway City Council members into adopting stricter laws against dispensaries and to ultimately discourage further proliferation throughout the city.

While the city and state attempt to conquer massive fiscal crises, perhaps our precious little resources should be directed elsewhere. It is estimated that between 150,000 and 300,000 Californians possess medically-sanctioned cannabis cards. A 2005 Australian economic study found that in the late 1990s, taxation of alcohol and tobacco consumption in Australia generated approximately $700 per capita. If marijuana were legalized and subject to taxation, the tax collections would increase by roughly $95 per capita, or 14 percent. Here in California, marijuana dispensaries pay between 7-9% in sales tax, depending on the city. If the state were to legalize the distribution and consumption of marijuana and regulate its taxation, the state could bring in $1.3 billion every year, according to the state Board of Equalization.

California Assembly Bill 390 suggests just that. Written and sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, the Bill was introduced in February of 2009 and delayed until early 2010 (according to pro-legalization activists NORML, the Bill is being delayed in order to secure statewide support).

Clearly, any movement in the way of legalization requires a great deal of personal responsibility falling on the shoulders of the stoned. Before Californians can see the billions of tax revenue and marijuana users breathe their smoke-filled sighs of relief, there must be proof that little-to-no harm is being done under current circumstances.

So what can readers of this site do to ensure a pay-day for the state and harmony for stoners? Prove Jimmy Carter wrong, and make the “inclination to spread” a good thing after all.

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