California considers move to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana
After one hundred years of mis-information it is possible that marijuana will finally be legal again in California.
Not a lot of people realize that the first national laws about marijuana required that it be planted. Several times throughout our history cannabis was a required crop. The early Americans used hemp for rope, paper, clothing, sails, oil and medicine. There is good reason to believe that both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington smoked "Indian hemp."
In the first decade of the last century some moral entrepeneurs with racist biases pushed through a series of "loco weed laws." The campaign against "mariguana, Mexican tobacco" spread from state to state but California was an early leader, fueled by anti-Chinese and anti-Mexican sentiment. It wasn’t hard to get decent white legislators to prohibit something used by foreigners. The prohibition against marijuana was perfect because, unlike alcohol, one could prohibit cannabis and arrest minorities all day long without impacting the lives of decent folk. The prohibition against alcohol failed in fourteen years, but marijuana was most often used by the poor and "foreign" and by social fringe groups.
This bias continued through the fifties but really bloomed in the 1960s when cannabis use and drug use in general marked the rejection of the WWII generation by the Baby Boomers. Cannabis and other drug use marked those who were "decent" from those who were "hippies" and those who were "in the groove" from those who were "establishment."
Nancy Reagan built a legacy from the unthinking "just say no," as did tens of thousands of lawyers, cops, jailers and others who stood to benefit from as much crime as could be generated. Drug laws are great for business, which is why local sheriffs and prison guard unions spend money against decriminalization of drugs.
Slowly, in fits and starts, cannabis has been brought in from the cold. Because China isn’t afraid of cannabis, there are a variety of hemp goods from China. Hemp seed is valued for its protein and very light oil. Many states "decriminalized" cannabis and more allow cannabis as medicine.
Finally, a movement has been made to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis in California. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco has put forth a bill, Assembly Bill 390, to legalize adult use of cannabis. Is Ammiano doing this because a free people should have the right to choose for themselves, or to release the tens of thousands of "pot-prisoners" from unfair punishment, or because the drug has been maligned, and in truth we would be a better society if cannabis were legal and alcohol illegal? Well, yes, but mostly, it’s about the money!
Clearly there is money in cannabis, and why should the hippies get all the loot? For $5,000 bucks down and $2,500 a year, you, too can be a pot wholesaler. For $50.00 bucks an ounce tax you could be a retailer. Cannabis is estimated to be a $14 billion dollar a year industry, but those numbers are based on statistics gathered by law enforcement, and they greatly exaggerate the problem (for funding purposes). California would expect to get $1.5 billion a year, and no doubt the tax will go up until that figure is reached.
It would be impossible to get support for legalization in the interest of liberty and justice, but cash might make the deal work.
Not surprisingly, many Assemblypeople (R-California) have already come out against the plan. Those heroes of less government, the Republicans, have provided the usual informed opinion: "I think substance abuse is just ruining our society," said Assemblyman Paul Cook, R-Yucca Valley. (The Prospect called Assemblyman Cook’s offices to see if he drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes, but none of the staff we spoke to knew if he did or not.)
Even Ammiano himself isn’t brave enough to claim to actually USE marijuana, "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."
In addition to the cash the state would get, Ammiano claims the state would save money in police, court and prison costs, and growers would stop growing in the wilds, spilling diesel and nitrogen on occasion, and start growing on farms.
Even if California legalized cannabis, it would still be illegal at the Federal level. Still, the Federal excuse for involvement in cannabis prohibition has always been tenuous at best, and with one of the nation’s largest states breaking from the pack, something might happen at the Federal level as well.
An estimated 600,000 Californians smoke cannabis daily; many but not all have "215" letters, or doctors’ prescriptions.
Cannabis prices in California have fallen from $350-425 an ounce, thanks to Prop 215, the Compassionate Use bill. Currently, party stoners are paying about $250-300 an ounce in California, and most medical users pay $150-200 an ounce. Most of this weed is supplied by people who are already "out of the wilds," growing in back yards and spare bedrooms. A lot of these growers are older, many are women, and many others grow to find a measure of independence. As growing cannabis is "mostly illegal," it is done by the poor, as most dangerous, unpleasant or difficult work is.
If cannabis is legalized, it will be large corporations growing it; it is the most economical and easy-to-regulate way to provide the plant. These corporations will be able to provide you with a nicely packed product of known strength for about $75.00 including $50.00 tax.
It is a no-brainer that a free society would allow citizens to choose for themselves whether to use a product like cannabis. Still, we worry what will happen to the marginal people for whom growing small amounts of high quality cannabis, lovingly tended and clipped by hand, as a way of living, when a tobacco company could provide standardized ganja at a bargain basement price.
And, too, for a lot of old hippies, smoking a joint has had the added bonus of saying "to hell with you" to the government. With weed legal, that sweet enjoyment will be gone!