The State of California Public Safety Committee just approved a bill that would tax and regulate marijuana growers and users. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat representing San Francisco, said his measure would provide revenue for the state as well as regulation of the drug. Anticipating the nationwide reaction, the state director of the drug policy alliance said the vote, “marks the formal beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States.”
The proposed new legislation will implement a $50 tax on each ounce of marijuana sold, charge license fees to the vendor, tax growers of the popular weed and generate about $1.3 billion annually. All I can say is it's about time.
Recent American history proves prohibition doesn’t work. In the early 20th century, the Women's Christian Temperance Union rallied the church-going society to ban the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Members argued prohibition would protect families, women, children and society in general from the effects of the abuse of alcohol.
Supporters of prohibition determined that alcohol consumption was the root of all evil. By eliminating it from society it would reduce social problems of the day, crime, poverty and even mental illness. And like true right-wing conservatives, they said it would lower taxes. It's a good thing they weren’t around 2,000 years ago. They would have served ginger ale at the Last Supper. The representatives of the states ratified the 18th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1919.
Thanks to the do-gooders and the Christian Women’s Temperance League, new businesses, like making moonshine, emerged and thrived. Street gangs took over the neighborhoods and organized crime rings battled each other for control of the nationwide distribution of the illegal elixir of euphoria. And rather than social problems decreasing, they increased, causing more government spending and higher taxes to enforce the prohibition. Sound familiar?
Going back to a report out of Washington D.C., the cost of enforcing marijuana prohibition was nearly $42 billion for criminal justice costs and lost tax revenue in 2007. Law enforcement spent $10.7 million just to arrest and prosecute marijuana offenders. This represents nearly 6 percent of total criminal justice expenditures in the nation for that year.
Because of prohibition, the retail price of the plant is artificially inflated, funneling billions of dollars to the black market and cartel economy. And it’s estimated the government loses more than $30 billion a year in taxes.
To give you an example of wasted government money, in 2006, 829,625 people were arrested for marijuana violations, which is 44 percent of all drug-related arrests. I’m sure the statistics haven’t changed much over the last few years, they have probably increased if anything.
But talk about a waste of time for law enforcement. Of those 829,000-plus arrested for marijuana violations, 739,000 were charged with possession, not the sale or the cultivating of the little green giant of a plant.
By changing controlled substance legislation, the need for Drug Enforcement Administration personnel would be reduced. Law enforcement personnel could be diverted to homeland security, protecting our borders, guarding our airports or even carrying a real gun in Afghanistan. The prison population would be reduced by 40 percent, eliminating the immediate need for new prisons. It would limit the early release of violent criminals and repeat offenders making our neighborhood streets safer.
By regulating marijuana possession, and all illegal drugs, we save the taxpayers money and generate a new source of revenue while, at the same time, reducing the proliferation of neighborhood gangs and international drug cartels.
But most importantly, by decriminalizing and regulating the purchase and use of street drugs, addiction can be treated as an illness, not a criminal offense.
The Democrats in California should solicit the support of their Republican counterparts to pass this new legislation. Why not? The same argument can be made against the prohibition marijuana that was made for the prohibition of alcohol in 1919.
The new law will satisfy the safety concerns of the right-wing religious conservatives of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Since drug use and addiction is a heavy contributor to family disturbances and domestic violence that effect women, children and society in general all of the Republican conservatives should join the Democrats in planting these new political seeds of “high” hopes.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Web site is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.