Pubdate: Sat, 15 Sep 2007
Source: Pasadena Star-News, The (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Pasadena Star News
Author: Thomas Elias
Note: Thomas Elias is a syndicated columnist who covers California 
issues. He lives in Santa Monica.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


Another state budget writing season is over, and another deficit 
budget adopted (even though Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won't admit 
it), with the usual lip service to fixing the so-called "structural 
deficit," but nothing serious done in that direction.

Meanwhile, from deep in the Emerald Triangle of Northern California, 
long reputed to be the national capital of in-ground marijuana 
growing, comes a simple idea that could both solve the budget deficit 
and end the greatest American hypocrisy since Prohibition. Too bad it 
has virtually no chance of passage in this decade or, very likely, 
the next one either.

You remember Prohibition, don't you? The era when hard liquor was 
banned by federal Constitutional amendment but still remained 
available to pretty much anyone who wanted it. The era when 
rum-runners got rich and moonshine whiskey distilled in secret 
because a cottage industry in many a hilly rural area.

If that sounds a little familiar, substitute pot for booze. It is 
also readily available today for almost anyone who wants it. Drug 
cartels and the occasional small private grower get rich from the 
illicit trade. Pot gardens abound in virtually every wild, woodsy and 
hilly area of California (not to mention Oregon, Arkansas, Tennessee 
and many other states). Homes in middle class suburbs like Diamond 
Bar and Pomona are turned into greenhouses by hydroponic marijuana 
growers who are sometimes caught when their electric bills become 
astronomical and attract attention.

How much pot is grown in California? The take from the annual 
Campaign Against Marijuana Production, a joint campaign of state, 
federal and local authorities, now approaches $7 billion in street 
value, but law enforcement spokesmen generally estimate they 
confiscate no more than one-tenth of the crop.

That estimate recently spurred the Mendocino County Board of 
Supervisors to implore its local congressman, Democrat Mike Thompson, 
to press forward efforts to get marijuana legalized. As medical pot 
users in California have frequently discovered since passage of 
Proposition 215 in 1996 attempted to legalize medicinal use with a 
doctor's recommendation, any significant legalization will have to 
come from the federal level. State laws are simply too easy for 
federal agents to overrule.

The Mendocino County letter contains the seeds of a budget solution. 
It was based on one local official's estimate that marijuana 
contributes about $5 billion annually to the county's overall 
economy. The estimate is based on the approximate $500million worth 
of pot rousted by authorities from Mendocino gardens.

The supervisors, of course, are concerned about their always-strapped 
county budget and figure that if pot were legalized, the county might 
get about $50million a year in fresh income.

That figure could be very low. For sure, statewide, legalizing pot 
would produce much, much more for governments at all levels.

Do the math: If $7 billion is confiscated, then production in the 
state is worth about $70 billion, all now completely untaxed. 
Legalize the weed and you get an immediate $5.77 billion in sales 
taxes. Legalize it, and you then can track who's getting the money 
and make sure they pay income taxes, which ought to produce at least 
another $7 billion or so for state and local coffers.

That infusion would rise as the years go by, due to inflation. Taxes 
produced would be more than what's needed to end the often vilified 
structural budget deficit.

Add an excise tax and you get even more. The federal government 
wouldn't get enough from California alone to pay for the war in Iraq, 
but its national take after legalization might be as much as $60 
billion a year.

This money now all goes into the hands of criminals and their 
cartels. Because their product is illegal contraband, these growers 
feel they must guard it. So they booby trap gardens, employ armed men 
to patrol around the clock and work to kill off any competition or 
turf poachers.

Legalize marijuana and much of that criminal activity would end 
because it would be unnecessary. The quality of pot, currently 
extremely variable and unpredictable, could also be policed.

There would no longer be any reason for anyone to fake an illness in 
order to get a medipot doctor's recommendation, so federal raids on 
dispensaries would end.

And law enforcement could concentrate more on other drugs like 
methamphetmines, cocaine and heroin.

Sure, there is a potential downside: Pot makes users lethargic and 
unmotivated. It can also be a step toward use of harder drugs. Much 
the same can be said for alcohol, and was said about it before 
Prohibition ended. But Prohibition ended because it was flouted to 
the point of absurdity.

The same is true for anti-marijuana laws today. Which makes it a 
shame that for now, the Mendocino County idea has absolutely no 
chance of even coming to a vote in Congress.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake