Monday, February 23, 2009

Taxing the Doob

by Eric Bailey, L.A. Times

Could Cannabis sativa be a salvation for California's fiscal misfortunes? Can the state get a better budget grip by taxing what some folks toke?

An assemblyman from San Francisco announced legislation Monday to do just that: make California the first state in the nation to tax and regulate recreational marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

Buoyed by the widely held belief that cannabis is California's biggest cash crop, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano contends it is time to reap some state revenue from that harvest while putting a damper on drug use by teens, cutting police costs and even helping Mother Nature.

"I know the jokes are going to be coming, but this is not a frivolous issue," said Ammiano, a Democrat elected in November after more than a dozen years as a San Francisco supervisor. "California always takes the lead -- on gay marriage, the sanctuary movement, medical marijuana."
Ammiano's measure, AB 390, would essentially replicate the regulatory structure used for beer, wine and hard liquor, with taxed sales barred to anyone under 21.

He said it would actually boost public safety, keeping law enforcement focused on more serious crimes while keeping marijuana away from teenagers who can readily purchase black-market pot from peers.

The natural world would benefit, too, from the uprooting of environmentally destructive backcountry pot plantations that denude fragile ecosystems, Ammiano said.

But the biggest boon might be to the bottom line. By some estimates, California's pot crop is a $14-billion industry, putting it above vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion). If so, that could mean upward of $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year.
"I'm a martini guy myself," Ammiano said. "But I think it's time for California to . . . look at this in a truly deliberative fashion."

He sees the possibility of an eventual truce in the marijuana wars with Barack Obama now in the White House.

A White House spokesman declined to discuss Ammiano's legislation, instead pointing to a transition website that says the president "is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana."

Several cities in California and around the nation have adopted laws making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority, including Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Denver and Seattle. Oakland went even further in 2004, requiring pot to be taxed if it is legalized.
The Great Depression swept away Prohibition. Guvmint didn't want all those alcoholic beverage revenues going into the pockets of organized crime, speakeasies, smugglers. Could economic desperation finally legalize it? How strictly laws against marijuana are enforced, & how strict those laws are, depend upon where you live. In the summer, I smell grass smoke wafting out of windows & backyards all around this neighborhood, & no cop car is gonna stop & check it out unless someone calls with noise complaint. The "rule" is that you don't light up in a public place. But there was always pot smoking in Rahway's county park on weekends, away from the road, blending in with the fragrance of hot dogs & hamburgers. When I worked in an art supply store, employees often lit up a bone on supper break as they walked across the wide parking lot to the sub shop. All the convenience stores do a considerable business in single cigars suitable for blunts. The 7/11 up the street, close to Kean University, sells a variety of sizes, plus rolling papers.

Big pot busts draw yawns, law enforcement wildly inflates the value of the confiscated stash. Actual street prices are common knowledge, everyone knows pot isn't the problem. Unlike crack & other hard drugs, pot is mostly a recreational thing, or spiritual, or medicinal. Last year, a Jersey man raising marijuana in his backyard to alleviate his MS symptoms was busted under the felony law of growing "for sale & distribution" because he was unwittingly three plants over the arbitrary limit. Perhaps, in addition to feeling better, he got more into Bob Marley albums. It's all so ridiculous.

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A goggle search, or at least a mary jane (lol) search should bring you to the history of marriageuana prohibition, and it leads back to William Randolph Hearst and the "wetback" problem he felt was wrecking America, vis-a-vis migrant workers in Los Angeles smoking weed. He pleaded with the feds to arrest these migrant workers, which the feds replied, like we really have the money to spend WAY OUT YONDER and arrest potheads. But, Hearst persisted, and you know, "Reefer Madness" era hit the waves. It wasn't until Tricky Dick was scared shitless out of the hippies that he put (arbitrarily and against medical experts evaluation) pot as a class one felony on his newly made up Drug Act, that is still operative to this day.
You can date the cocaine epidemic in America to Nixon's "Operation Intercept" in 1969. By cutting the flow of cheap Mexican grass, he opened up the cocaine trade.
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