Pubdate: Thu, 6 Aug 2009
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: 19A
Copyright: 2009 The Sacramento Bee
Author: F. Aaron Smith, Special to The Bee


California's budget crisis has pushed the long policy debate over
marijuana to center stage - no surprise, because marijuana is the
state's largest cash crop, and the state is paying bills with IOUs and
axing vital public services.

But the potential tax revenue - $1.4 billion, according to the Board
of Equalization's recent analysis - of Assembly Bill 390, pending
legislation seeking to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, may be
the least important reason to end marijuana prohibition.

Unlike other budget plans on the table, from laying off police
officers to increasing taxes on middle-class families, regulating
marijuana would be a good move for California even if the state
treasury were rolling in money.

The first question to ask about any public policy is: Is it working?
For marijuana prohibition, the clear answer is "no." It's painfully
clear that our marijuana laws have failed to reduce marijuana use.
Seventy years of marijuana prohibition have turned a little-known
medicinal herb into a product that's been used by nearly half of all
Americans, including President Barack Obama and California Gov. Arnold

One in 10 Californians admits to using marijuana in the past year,
despite record arrests and record seizures of marijuana plants year
after year. Marijuana prohibition is one of the most wasteful and
ineffective government programs ever.

Prohibition has been of no help to parents, either. Marijuana is sold
at virtually every high school in California and, according to the
state's official survey, more teens currently smoke marijuana than
smoke cigarettes - a legally regulated product.

By maintaining the legal status quo, the state is abnegating control
of this mind-altering substance to the criminal market, where sellers
have no incentive to restrict their sales to adults. A legal,
regulated market with strict penalties for selling to minors and
honest education about marijuana is the most effective way to reduce
teen use. Indeed, it's already worked with tobacco.

The draconian marijuana laws are even more insane when considering
that police departments everywhere are stretched to the brink. In
2007, California saw more than 74,000 marijuana arrests - 80 percent
for mere personal possession. That same year, more than 166,000
violent crimes went unsolved in the state. These staggering statistics
should be reason enough to rethink our marijuana laws.

Marijuana prohibition shares eerie parallels to the dark days of
alcohol Prohibition. Instead of Al Capone smuggling booze out of
Chicago, today's prohibition criminals are growing large-scale
marijuana farms in our national parks. Creating a legal, regulated
market for marijuana will put these bad guys out of business - just as
the end of alcohol Prohibition closed the door to bootleggers.

Another reason to repeal marijuana prohibition is that we have no
business making responsible, adult marijuana consumers into criminals.
Independent scientific research consistently concludes that marijuana
is far safer than alcohol - both in risk of addiction and toxicity.
What message are we sending by criminalizing millions of otherwise
law-abiding people who choose to relax at the end of the day with a
safer substance?

The policy of making criminals out of so many productive members of
society and spending vast resources chasing down plants causes
widespread disrespect for the law.

Ending marijuana prohibition would bring users into the light and do
away with the wink-wink, nudge-nudge attitude so many people have
developed about marijuana.

By changing the way we deal with marijuana, California could serve as
a beacon to the nation for a new, effective policy rather than the
embodiment of everything wrong with the old, ineffectual one.

The resulting new tax revenue would only be icing on the cake.
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