Pubdate: Mon, 24 Sep 2007
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2007 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Thomas D. Elias


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 $500 million 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 $50 million  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