Pubdate: Thu, 26 Mar 2009
Source: San Francisco Bay Times (CA)
Copyright: 2009 San Francisco Bay Times
Author: Bruce Mirken
Note: Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy 
Project (, lives in San Francisco.


What if there were an action the state of California could take that
would raise hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to preserve
vital state services without any tax increase? And what if that same
measure could, without any new expense, help protect our endangered
wilderness areas while making it harder for our kids to get drugs?

That is precisely what AB 390, just introduced by California
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would do.

By taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to the way beer, wine and
liquor are now regulated, Ammiano's measure would take California's
largest cash crop - estimated to be worth about $14 billion in 2006
- - out of the criminal underground. By bringing a huge underground
economy into the tax system, it would open up a major pool of new
revenue without raising anyone's tax rates.

It likely wouldn't even increase the net cost to those who purchase
marijuana, as taxes would simply replace the "risk premium" that the
plant's current illegality adds to the price of what is otherwise a
pretty ordinary agricultural product.

And of course, AB 390 wouldn't just raise revenues. It would save
millions of dollars in law enforcement cost generated by California's
more than 70,000 marijuana arrests each year. That's money that could
be used to lock up violent criminals, or to restore school or health
funding that was cut in the just-approved state budget.

Just as importantly, that money represents profits that would no
longer be going to criminal gangs, including the gangs now causing
horrendous violence and instability in Mexico. According to officials,
marijuana accounts for 60 percent of the income stream of these
murderous thugs, income we've literally handed them by maintaining
marijuana prohibition. After all, there's a reason these gangs aren't
smuggling wine grapes.

But Ammiano's proposal has broader benefits that might not be obvious
at first.

Every year the news media report truly alarming stories of
environmental damage caused by clandestine marijuana farms planted in
remote corners of national parks, forests and wilderness areas. These
illicit operations have one objective: To get in, harvest their crop
and get out as quickly as possible. To say they aren't exactly green
businesses is putting it mildly.

And they would be instantly irrelevant as soon as AB 390 becomes
operational, for the same reason you never hear of criminal gangs
planting vineyards in our national forests. It's a pretty ironclad law
of economics that once there is a legal market for something, the
underground trade disappears.

Regulating marijuana would also make it easier to keep it away from
kids. That probably seems surprising, but it's true. It's not an
accident that in the Netherlands, where for over three decades adults
have been allowed to possess and purchase small amounts of marijuana
from regulated businesses, a recent World Health Organization study
found that not only are overall marijuana use rates lower than ours,
the percentage of teens trying marijuana by age 15 is only one-third
the rate in the U.S.

And it's not an accident that in this country, the tough crackdown on
cigarette sales to minors that began in the mid-1990s has helped
produce a sharp drop in teen cigarette smoking, while teen marijuana
use rose during the same period. Shockingly, the latest federal
government teen drug use survey found that under our current
unregulated system, more 10th-graders now smoke marijuana than smoke

Any way you look at it, the fantasy that we can somehow "eradicate"
marijuana has proven to be the worst policy fiasco of the last century.

There is a better way. AB 390 is the right move for California. Tom
Ammiano has done a huge public service by introducing this legislation
and starting a public conversation that was long overdue.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake