Pubdate: Mon, 17 Sep 2007
Source: Salinas Californian, The (CA)
Copyright: 2007 The Salinas Californian
Note: Priority is given to letters from Monterey County residents
Author: Thomas Elias
Note: TOM ELIAS is a syndicated political writer based in Sacramento. 
His "California Focus" column appears Monday on the Opinion page.


Another state budget writing season is over, and another deficit
budget adopted, with lip service to fixing the so-called "structural
deficit." Meanwhile, from deep in the Emerald Triangle of Northern
California, reputed as the national capital of marijuana growing,
comes a simple idea that could solve the budget deficit and end the
greatest American hypocrisy since Prohibition. Too bad it has no
chance of passage in this decade or the next one, either.

You remember Prohibition. The era when hard liquor was banned by
federal Constitutional amendment but remained available to anyone who
wanted it. The era when rum-runners got rich and moonshine whiskey
distilled in secret became a cottage industry.

Substitute pot for booze.

It is available today for almost anyone who wants it. Drug cartels and
the small private grower get rich from the illicit trade.

Pot gardens abound in wild, woodsy and hilly areas of California.
Homes in middle class suburbs are turned into greenhouses by
hydroponic pot growers who are sometimes caught when their electric
bills attract attention.

How much pot is grown in California? The take from the annual Campaign
Against Marijuana Production, a campaign of state, federal and local
authorities, now approaches $7 billion in street value, but law
enforcement estimate they confiscate no more than one-tenth of the
crop. That estimate spurred the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors
to implore its congressman, Democrat Mike Thompson, to press forward
efforts to get marijuana legalized.

As medical pot users have discovered since passage of Proposition 215
in 1996 attempted to legalize medicinal use with a doctor's
recommendation, any legalization will have to come from the federal

The Mendocino County letter contains the seeds of a budget

It was based on one official's estimate that marijuana contributes
about $5 billion annually to the county's economy.

The estimate is based on the $500 million worth of pot rousted by
local authorities. The county might get $50 million a year in fresh

That figure could be low. Statewide, legalizing pot would produce much
more for government. Do the math: If $7 billion is confiscated,
production in the state is worth about $70 billion, all untaxed.
Legalize weed and you get an immediate $5.77 billion in sales taxes.
Legalize it, and you can track who's getting the money and make sure
they pay income taxes, which ought to produce another $7 billion or

Add an excise tax and you get even more. The federal government's take
might be as much as $60 billion a year. This money now goes to criminals.

Legalize marijuana and much of that criminal activity would end. And
law enforcement could concentrate more on other drugs like
methamphetmines. Sure, pot makes users unmottivated. It can be a step
to harder drugs.

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

The same is true for anti-marijuana laws today.

It's a shame that, for now, the Mendocino County idea has no chance of
even coming to a vote in Congress.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake