Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jul 2009
Source: San Antonio Express-News (TX)
Copyright: 2009 San Antonio Express-News
Author: Froma Harrop, Creators Syndicate columnist
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Popular)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


The popular TV series "Weeds" is about a widowed suburban mother who
deals pot to preserve her family's cushy California dream. Not a few
Californians would like to see the theme writ large for their state.

California has legalized medical marijuana, its cannabis crop is
valued at $17 billion a year, and people there smoke pot openly. But
the state can't collect a penny of revenues from the enormous enterprise.

As California faced budget Armageddon, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
called for "a debate" on the potential of tapping marijuana as a
source of tax revenues. That's all he can do, because federal law
still criminalizes marijuana use.

Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron has calculated the sort of revenues
California and other states could see were marijuana taxed like
cigarettes and alcohol. California's taxes would easily top $100
million a year.

But that's the least of it. Miron puts California's costs of enforcing
the marijuana ban -- policing, the courts, jail time -- at $981
million a year.

Nationally, legalizing marijuana would save $7.7 billion a year on
drug-war spending, according to Miron. And government could raise $6.2
billion annually in tax revenues.

A vain hope rose that President Barack Obama's naming of Gil
Kerlikowske as drug czar would lead to a more rational and humane
policy on drugs. As Seattle's police chief, Kerlikowske oversaw the
city's annual Hempfest (a giant and mellow smoke-in) without bothering
the celebrants.

But Kerlikowske announced this month that "marijuana is dangerous and
has no medicinal benefit." And to end any idea that the hip, liberal
Obama administration would ease up on pot, he added, "Legalization is
not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine."

Obama readily admits having used marijuana in his youth (in addition
to cocaine). And every year, many thousands of Americans are arrested
and their lives ruined for doing what he did. Does Obama get to be
president only because he wasn't caught?

Miron is a libertarian who sees all drug prohibition as interfering
with people's private lives. But he well understands the politics that
stop politicians from taking the no-brainer position on marijuana.

If marijuana were legalized, and the sky didn't fall in, many drug
laws would crack, he says.

If governments want to tax marijuana, they'll have to legalize it. But
even the lesser step of decriminalization -- whereby people may
possess marijuana but not sell it -- would save the billions spent
going after users.

Selling the public on expanded gambling and legalized marijuana
require different arguments. Casino gambling was already permitted in
Las Vegas and Atlantic City, so Americans were used to the idea when
other states started allowing it. And of course, there's a long
history of wagering at racetracks or church bingo games. Marijuana was
never part of the official culture.

Marijuana does have an advantage over gambling as a revenue source: It
doesn't compete with other taxed businesses. Casinos take
entertainment dollars away from restaurants, amusement parks and movie
theaters. Legal marijuana would take business away from foreign drug

A bill to "tax and regulate" marijuana like alcohol now before the
California legislature has strong support. But it's not going anywhere
as long as "legalization" is not in Obama's vocabulary. The word
"hypocrisy" apparently made the cut. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake