Legalization of Marijuana could add Billions to California's empty coffers – let the debate begin

July 27, 2009 – Last week I posted an article reflecting the potential health benefits of marijuana. That article resulted in several posted comments as well as other marijuana-leaf(4)informal observations from readers regarding the issue of the drug’s legalization and its potential taxation. In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of marijuana legalization and taxation.

The Top 10 List – (not necessarily in the order of their priority)

Most popular arguments against legalization:

1. Marijuana use often leads to stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin (the Gateway Theory).
2. Driving under the influence will lead to more highway deaths and injuries.
3. Heavy marijuana smoking will cause serious physical as well as psychological damage to its users.
4. Legalization would increase the chance of the drug becoming available to minors.
5. Use of marijuana is morally wrong.
6. Secondhand smoke will cause harm to innocent bystanders.
7. Arresting marijuana users will keep those people most likely to commit more serious crimes off the streets.
8. The easy availability of drugs would create new consumers rather than rescuing current ones.
9. Legalization will send a message to children that drug use is acceptable.
10. Legalization could led to neglect of children by drug-addicted parents.

Most popular arguments in favor of legalization:

1. If used in moderation, marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
2. If marijuana is legalized, the FDA or other state agencies could regulate its quality and safety.
3. Drug dealers and other dangerous folks would lose a big slice of their business.
4. Legalization will reduce crime by reducing drug disputes while allowing police and court resources to be freed up for more serious crimes.
5. For some people marijuana (like alcohol, cigarettes or sex) is one of life’s pleasures and limiting the use of the drug intrudes on personal freedom.
6. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, there are many documented positive medical benefits associated with marijuana use.
7. Legalizing tobacco and alcohol, while criminalizing the use of marijuana, sends a confusing message to young people who view the inconsistencies as hypocritical and leads to a general disrespect for the law.
8. Legalization can lead to taxation as well as other economic benefits for states in desperate need of additional revenue.
9. By inhaling marijuana vapor rather than smoking it as a cigarette (joint), adverse health risks can be greatly limited.
10. Legalization can lead to the legal cultivation of the hemp plant which can provide a variety of “green” products such as fabrics, paper and other useful applications.

Now, if you come down on the side of legalization, the next question is whether it should it be taxed and, if so, how much new revenue would it generate?

Lets look at the potential revenue that may become available to the nearly bankrupted state of California if marijuana is made legal and is taxed. A bill by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would legalize the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana by people 21 and older. It would charge growers and wholesalers a $5,000 initial franchise fee and a $2,500 annual renewal fee while assessing a levy of $50 per ounce fee on retailers.

According to a February report from a marijuana advocacy group (NORML), marijuana legalization could yield California taxpayers over $1.2 billion per year and provide additional spin-off benefits up to $12 – $18 billion annually. Those spin-off benefits include industries such as coffeehouses, tourism and industrial hemp.

I invite the reader to proffer their comments and opinions regarding the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Also, if I have missed any reasonable argument either for or against legalization please let me know via your posted comments. Let the debate begin.

Other informative web-sites:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
NORML – Working to reform marijuana laws
Hemp Facts
Why we say yes to drugs – Salon
Other arguments pro and con


One response to “Legalization of Marijuana could add Billions to California's empty coffers – let the debate begin”

  1. Rebuttal to some points against:

    1. The Gateway theory is largely untrue. Only a tiny percentage of cannabis smokers move on to harder drugs, and of those, many likely consumed alcohol, tobacco, caffeine or so other drug before cannabis.

    2. While cannabis does cause some impairment while driving, it is nothing at all near that caused by alcohol. In fact, one German med pot patient who had his licensed pulled because of cannabis use demonstrated with driving simulators that he’s actually a much more competent driver under the influence of pot than not. Studies have shown that cannabis users are generally more aware of their impairment and slow down to compensate, whereas drunk people tend to be unaware of their impairment and don’t compensate for it.

    3. No study has conclusively stated that smoking cannabis will cause negative long-term health effects. Even given that smoking cannabis releases particulate matter into the lungs such as smoking tobacco does, cannabis smokers do not exhibit many of the respiratory maladies that tobacco smokers do. That said, a recent study in the CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) notes that cannabis has an additive effect when combined with tobacco and can lead to specific lung-related illness. By itself, however, cannabis is fairly innocuous. As well, the point about vaporizers has already been made in the “pro” section, wherein the aforementioned technology reduces particulate matter in smoke by up to 98%.

    4. The drug is already available to minors. Surveys of drug availability to high-school students show that their ability to acquire cannabis has not wavered in any capacity at any part in the drug war. Comparatively, alcohol and tobacco, despite being legal, are actually much harder for them to acquire given their regulated nature. Legalization would in fact do the opposite of this point; it would in fact make cannabis harder for youth to acquire.

    5. Arguing the morality of lifestyle choices in 2009 is like arguing the legitimacy of large bodies of water. Res ipsa PoMo loquitur. At any rate, there’s an excellent XKCD that says it better than I could, and Eric Voegelin’s “Science, Politics and Gnosticism” is a very good academic account of why this variety of thinking is harmful to society.

    6. See point 3. As well, existing local tobacco-related smoking bans would probably extend to cannabis and reduce this problem from the very outset. Even still, it’s not like tobacco smoke, where someone like a waitress can acquire respiratory maladies over time merely by continuously being around its secondhand variety.

    7. This is Philip K. Dick “Department of PreCrime” type shit. Who is to say a cannabis smoker is any more likely of committing a crime than tobacco smoker, or a non-smoker even? Even if there is hard statistical evidence detailing increased criminal activity amongst cannabis smokers (Which there is not as far as I know; granted, this point might perhaps be made by somebody at some point who is looking at general drug-related crime and not cannabis specifically.), that does not necessarily imply a causal relation. For instance, a percentage of cannabis smokers may engage in a criminal activity (Well, all of us without a med card do anyway), cannabis use might be just one aspect of their existence unrelated to those activities (Kind of the same problem when trying to find causal relations between homelessness and drug-use; do homeless people use drugs because they’re homeless, or are they homeless because they do drugs? Is mental illness in homeless populations due to drug use, or is drug use in homeless populations due to mental illness? None of these can be easily answered, if at all.)

    8. Portugal decriminalized *all* drugs in the early ’00s and the trend has not been an increase in drug use. There’s a really good CATO institute report on the topic. Further, the Netherlands, wherein smoking pot is de facto legalized, have half as many smokers per capita as the US or Canada. Think of it this way: say I tell you that crack cocaine is NOW LEGAL (Though heavily monitored by the state). Are you going to be jumping at the bit to try crack cocaine? Not likely. Drug use is an inherently personal choice and the War on Drugs has, more than anything else, proven that the government really has altogether very little effect on this decision, no matter how much it tries.

    9. And being able to sell two tallboys of high-potency energy drink (Fittingly referred to as “hard caffeine” recently by an associate) for under $5 doesn’t send weird messages to kids about drugs? Being able to purchase alcohol at 7-11 in most American cities doesn’t send the message? Feeding kids Ritalin like Tic-Tacs and then telling them “Just say NO!” doesn’t send the wrong message? Saying that smoking this innocuous plant will result in jail time even though it provides incredible relief to untold thousands of people isn’t sending the wrong message? In that case, what kind of deranged message ARE we trying to send to our children? Because what they’re receiving isn’t what we’re sending.

    10. Some of the pot-smoking parents I’ve met are some of the nicest, most caring individuals. What studies have been done to indicate cannabis smoking results in neglect of offspring? This point sounds more like alarmist right-wing rhetoric more than anything, designed to paint drug users as social degenerates who offer nothing to their culture. It’s 2009, we need to seriously call people on this shit when they do it. The moral outrage is now OURS.

    Additions to the Pro side:
    1. Physiologically, pot’s safer than water and much safer than alcohol or tobacco. There is not a single recorded instance of somebody dying from cannabis overdose; it’s impossible, would require smoking like 4 kg in 20 minutes. You’d die from asphyxiation by smoke inhalation before overdosing. Comparatively, tobacco, alcohol and yes, even water kill thousands yearly through overdose.

    Pro Point 7 is a good rebuttal for Con Point 9.

    Pro 11. Hemp could be an absolutely fantastic source of biofuel, if only it were legal…

    If you’re wanting sources for any of my points, email me and I’ll look them up.

    -Ændrew Rininsland
    Managing Editor, Hotbox Magazine

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