Pubdate: Sat, 7 Aug 2010
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2010 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano of Vallejo is the deputy director of NORML, the 
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and he is the 
co-author of the book "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving 
People to Drink?" He is also the co-chair of the health professionals 
steering committee for the Proposition 19 campaign.
Cited: Proposition 19
Referenced: The Rand Institute report


The media's take-away message from the recent Rand Institute report 
on regulating marijuana in California was this: Legalizing pot would 
lead to a decline in price, followed by an increase in consumption. 
Rand's actual conclusions, however, were far less newsworthy.

A careful reading of the Rand study finds that its authors were 
uncertain of how significantly, or insignificantly, pot's retail 
prices or consumption would be impacted by legalization. Under the 
passage of Proposition 19 - the marijuana initiative before voters in 
November - the most likely answer is: not much.

Let's be clear about what Proposition 19 would do. Its immediate 
effect would be to end the practice of arresting and prosecuting 
adults in California for the private use of a substance that is 
objectively less harmful, to both the user and to society, than alcohol.

Doing so will unburden the courts, save millions in taxpayers' 
dollars, and allow law enforcement to reallocate their resources to 
focus on targeting more serious crimes.

The long-term effect of this initiative will be to allow communities 
to explore policies to remove the commercial cultivation and 
distribution of marijuana away from criminal entrepreneurs and into 
the hands of licensed, regulated business people.

Doing so will create new jobs and new revenue. As a society we don't 
tax and regulate alcohol because it's innocuous. We do so because we 
recognize that booze temporarily alters mood and behavior and thus 
should be regulated accordingly.

There's no reason why this same principle shouldn't also apply to 
cannabis. Legalization, coupled with sensible regulations and age 
restrictions, will limit youth access to pot and better protect public safety.

Would the advent of a legal market for cannabis production and sale 
lower the product's cost to the consumer, as Rand predicts? Yes, but 
likely not substantially. After all, cannabis has been legally sold 
for medical purposes in California for well over a decade, but this 
legality has caused only a minor decrease in the product's price.

Further, even after the passage of Proposition 19, producers and 
sellers would still live under the threat of federal prosecution. 
This "risk premium" will continue to artificially inflate the market 
value of marijuana for the foreseeable future.

Finally, there will be new, ancillary costs under legalization - such 
as sales tax, excise taxes, and increased overhead to pay for small 
business liabilities such as insurance and employee benefits - that 
would also keep prices elevated.

Rand's concern about skyrocketing consumption also appears specious. 
Right now virtually anyone in California who wishes to obtain or 
consume marijuana can do so already, and it is hard to believe that 
adults who presently abstain from pot would no longer do so simply 
because certain restrictions on its prohibition were lifted or 
because its price fluctuated.

Finally, it ought to be noted that unlike alcohol, cannabis is 
incapable of causing lethal overdose, is relatively nontoxic to 
healthy cells and organs, and its use is not typically associated 
with violent, aggressive, or reckless behavior. So then why are we so 
worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own home?

Ultimately, however, quibbling over Rand's suppositions should not 
cause us to lose sight of the big picture. California lawmakers 
criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in 1913 - a full 24 
years before the federal government enacted prohibition.

Yet, right now in California, the federal government reports that 
approximately one out of 10 people annually consume about 1.2 million 
pounds of marijuana. Self-evidently cannabis is here to stay.

Let's address this reality and stop conceding control of this market 
to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises, and put it in the hands 
of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first step in this direction.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake