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California Assemblyman Pushes Pot Legalization

In a rare bit of sanity from a California politician, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has begun to argue for the legalization of marijuana in California.

Buoyed by the widely held belief that cannabis is California’s biggest cash crop, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano contends it is time to reap some state revenue from that harvest while putting a damper on drug use by teens, cutting police costs and even helping Mother Nature.

[...]

Ammiano’s measure, AB 390, would essentially replicate the regulatory structure used for beer, wine and hard liquor, with taxed sales barred to anyone under 21.

He said it would actually boost public safety, keeping law enforcement focused on more serious crimes while keeping marijuana away from teenagers who can readily purchase black-market pot from peers.

The natural world would benefit, too, from the uprooting of environmentally destructive backcountry pot plantations that denude fragile ecosystems, Ammiano said.

But the biggest boon might be to the bottom line. By some estimates, California’s pot crop is a $14-billion industry, putting it above vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion). If so, that could mean upward of $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year.

He’ll get no argument from me–the current criminalization of marijuana is beyond ridiculous, and causes suffering and injustice well beyond any rational justification. Of course, there’s no way this bill will pass, but I’m glad that somebody is putting the idea out there.

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About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp writes about pretty much everything under the sun, including politics, art, religion, philosophy, sports, music, culture, and science.

Comments

  1. odograph says:

    There was a crazy show on National Geographic a few days ago, about how homes in Mendocino are allowed something like 8 or 12 pot plants in the back yard … as the defacto limit.

    Even as a southern Californian I would not have guessed that things got that strange.

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  2. Drew says:

    Uh. What was the subject of the post again?

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  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Unfortunately the feds will still be able to implement laws that will punish people. So you’ll get more DEA raids…paramilitary raids that destroy property, terrorize people, and even in some tragic cases kill people, both cops and non-cops.

    If only Obama would follow through on his campaign promise to have the DEA back off of going after marijuana and focus on drugs like heroin, crack, and so forth.

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  4. How much of the economic value of the crop is related to the risks associated with the illegality and how much due to the variable costs of the plant and harvesting? If passed, what would be the economics of land being taken out of production for a current use and put into production for another? Would the market support agri-business product or would ‘organic’ small plots and home gardens dominate? What would the tax collection look like in the different models? Would the product rapidly become more potent or would we place limits that in turn would lead to enforcement? If we legalize pot, why not legalize cocaine?

    I have heard a lot of people talk about the economic benefits of legalizing pot, but I haven’t heard much rational discussion of what the world would really look like if we did it.

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  5. Billy says:

    I have heard a lot of people talk about the economic benefits of legalizing pot, but I haven’t heard much rational discussion of what the world would really look like if we did it.

    Ever heard of Amsterdam? I suggest a Google search.

    Conversely, I have heard a lot of people talk about the imminent collapse of society if we legalize pot, but I haven’t heard much rational discussion of what the world would really look like if we did it.

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  6. Steve Verdon says:

    I have heard a lot of people talk about the economic benefits of legalizing pot, but I haven’t heard much rational discussion of what the world would really look like if we did it.

    Probably not much different than the world today.

    If we legalize pot, why not legalize cocaine?

    Why not make booze illegal? Seriously, you can’t see that we can draw lines at various points? Yeah sometimes you can slide down a slippery slope, other times there is no slope and it ain’t that slippery either.

    Oh, yeah and I forgot to mention along with the paramilitary raids more dead family dogs too.

    Conversely, I have heard a lot of people talk about the imminent collapse of society if we legalize pot, but I haven’t heard much rational discussion of what the world would really look like if we did it.

    Reefer madness as such a fun and goofy flick, I’m a bit surprised many still consider it accurate.

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  7. Steve Plunk says:

    I must respectfully disagree with the idea of pot legalization having few downsides. Besides the cliche of adults living in the basement smoking dope everyday there are real consequences to increasing availability of a substance that decreases mental ability short term and perhaps even long term.

    Yetanotherjohn points to the realities of tax collections and production of the crop. Nobody seems to be thinking these issues through but rather just assume everything will work out.

    Just because the drug war is presently not working doesn’t mean it’s goal is wrong. There’s more to be debated before we take the step of legalization. I should say mature, reasonable debate.

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  8. Michael says:

    there are real consequences to increasing availability of a substance that decreases mental ability short term and perhaps even long term.

    And yet alcohol is still legal.

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  9. [...] Outside The Beltway Share and [...]

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  10. tom p says:

    There’s more to be debated before we take the step of legalization. I should say mature, reasonable debate.

    In that spirit, I offer these observstions:

    of a substance that decreases mental ability short term and perhaps even long term.

    These things (in ref to pot) have long been studied, we know the answers to those questions. I don’t know what the studies show, but my own observation has been, not near as bad as alcohol.

    there are real consequences to increasing availability

    Steve, no snark meant but, where have you been?Drugs are easier to get than guns… I am reminded of the line by the teen age girl in “Traffic” where she says at an AA meeting, something along the lines of: “I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic or not… I mean, for someone my age, it is a whole lot easier to get drugs than alcohol.”

    Just because the drug war is presently not working doesn’t mean it’s goal is wrong.

    I don’t think any one here is arguing about the goal (if the goal is to limit drug usage as much as possible) but rather the way this “war” is being prosecuted. Our prisons are overflowing with people, some of whom did nothing worse than share a joint with someone (true story, a little involved, but true), and we are paying for it. In more ways than one… last year I got tested 6 times in less than 12 months… (A buddy of mine joked that it was probably because they knew I was clean… I laughed, but after I thought about it…) This cost my company and my union $750… for what? To find out that I am clean? I could have told them that!
    Violence in Mexico has reached epidemic proportions, it has gotten so bad that some feel it is only a matter of time before it spills over to this side of the border. Meanwhile, drugs are cheaper than ever, easier to get than ever, more powerful than ever. What about this picture don’t you get? For my ownself, legalize dope now (and peyote, and mushrooms). I have several friends who are regular smokers, and all are “productive” members of society. When it comes to the other stuff, decriminalyze it (and yes, the devil is in the details)

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  11. Steve Plunk says:

    Guys, the alcohol argument goes no where. It’s been legal for years and has significant threads through our culture. And besides, making pot legal won’t fix any problems with alcohol.

    Drugs may be relatively easy to get but their not being stocked down at the 7-11. That would be easy to get. The reason kids find alcohol more difficult to get is because they usually have to get a responsible adult to buy it for them rather than buy drugs from felons with no sense of responsibility.

    Many are using the failed war on drugs as an excuse to legalize. Throw in the tax revenue and people talk like it’s a cure for societal ills rather than a cause. I don’t see it that way. The violence in Mexico has a lot to do with a culture of corruption that has turned civil morality upside down. It was expected. You can’t have law and order if you never respect law in the first place. We have that respect here. I see no violent drugs wars in Mendocino County.

    The fact we have people in prison for minor offenses calls for reform in sentencing and drug laws. It doesn’t mean you should legalize it. Make the punishment fit the crime but don’t abandon good law because of some unique failures.

    I get the picture but am not seeing a convincing argument. I’m also open to more discussion but for now I still see more downside than upside

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  12. Grewgills says:

    How much of the economic value of the crop is related to the risks associated with the illegality and how much due to the variable costs of the plant and harvesting?How much of the economic value of the crop is related to the risks associated with the illegality and how much due to the variable costs of the plant and harvesting?

    Some portion is due to risk. It is expensive to effectively light a room without an obvious power signature and to smell proof the room. Alternately it cost mush in time to grow on poorly observed government land.
    I have heard but not confirmed that pot is the top cash crop in Humboldt and that most of that makes its way to the legal distribution network in CA. Despite being able to grow in backyard greenhouses with little risk the price remains high (at least at the point of distribution).
    The cost would probably drop a bit if it were legalized under AB 390, but not too much. Assuming only slightly increased supply and near stable demand and assuming the $14 billion figure is accurate I would guess we are talking about better than $10 billion and it could be taxed at higher than the ~20% tax on cigarettes.

    If passed, what would be the economics of land being taken out of production for a current use and put into production for another?

    It would be mostly a greenhouse crop (more control and better product), so land use issues should be minimal.

    Would the market support agri-business product or would ‘organic’ small plots and home gardens dominate?

    Without changes to federal law the latter.

    What would the tax collection look like in the different models?

    Probably a lot like other sin taxes.

    Would the product rapidly become more potent or would we place limits that in turn would lead to enforcement?

    People have been working diligently at that (as diligently as chronic stoners can) for at least 40 years. There is only so much more that can be done to increase potency and most of that cannot be done in the short term by current growers; there would be a bit more consistency at the high to mid range though.
    Few people would grow for themselves simply because of the hassle. It is legal to grow tobacco, but how many people bother?

    If we legalize pot, why not legalize cocaine?

    Why not?

    I must respectfully disagree with the idea of pot legalization having few downsides. Besides the cliche of adults living in the basement smoking dope everyday there are real consequences to increasing availability of a substance that decreases mental ability short term and perhaps even long term.

    First would it really increase availability for underage users?
    As others have pointed out the same and perhaps worse is true of alcohol, but we realize that it makes no sense to bring back alcohol prohibition.
    Why does marijuana warrant more stringent control than alcohol?

    On the economic front, not having to pay to incarcerate pot smokers would be a tremendous savings and retasking police would provide both economic and safety benefits.

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  13. Grewgills says:

    Guys, the alcohol argument goes no where. It’s been legal for years and has significant threads through our culture. And besides, making pot legal won’t fix any problems with alcohol.

    That does not address the double standard in play for drugs with similar consequences.

    Drugs may be relatively easy to get but their not being stocked down at the 7-11. That would be easy to get. The reason kids find alcohol more difficult to get is because they usually have to get a responsible adult to buy it for them rather than buy drugs from felons with no sense of responsibility.

    Why can you see the logic for alcohol, yet not for marijuana? Do we really need to protect adults from marijuana? Do we really need to protect either children or adults for marijuana more than from alcohol? If you think we do, then why?

    Many are using the failed war on drugs as an excuse to legalize. Throw in the tax revenue and people talk like it’s a cure for societal ills rather than a cause.

    It is a cure for a singular societal ill, the purposeless punishment of people who have done no harm to anyone else. Legalize it and control it and it will be no more a societal ill than alcohol or any number of other ills we are content living with.

    Make the punishment fit the crime but don’t abandon good law because of some unique failures.

    1) Why is marijuana prohibition a good law?
    2) What punishment fits the crime of smoking a joint?

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  14. Clovis says:

    Is there any quick, accurate and relatively non-invasive test for stoned drivers? Had I known about the MADD campaign, I’d have put my dough in Breathalyzer stock. So if anyone has any pointers, please let me know.

    Because it will come up. In debating the legislation or, by MAHD (or some such other group) soon after.

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  15. Grewgills says:

    Clovis,
    Saliva tests work for detecting recent use. That combined with standard field sobriety tests should do the trick.

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  16. davod says:

    “Ever heard of Amsterdam? I suggest a Google search.”

    The Dutch are re-thinking their liberal policies.

    WRT to legalizing pot:

    How would you like your -soldier/policeman/crossing guard/pilot/bus driver/ driver next to you on freeway/ school teacher/ judges/ lawyers – defense and prosecution – smoking pot, day in day out, no restrictions.

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  17. Grewgills says:

    The Dutch are re-thinking their liberal policies.

    Not really. What they are doing is shrinking the red-light district in Amsterdam. There is a red-light district and there are coffee shops in virtually every city and town in the Netherlands. It is the one in Amsterdam that they are shrinking, not the rest. This is about the Amsterdam red-light sitting on prime central Amsterdam real estate, not about rethinking the legal status of marijuana and prostitution. They did recently rethink the legalities of mushrooms. They now require a 3-day waiting period.

    How would you like your -soldier/policeman/crossing guard/pilot/bus driver/ driver next to you on freeway/ school teacher/ judges/ lawyers – defense and prosecution – smoking pot, day in day out, no restrictions.

    I’ll answer your question with a question.
    How would you like your -soldier/policeman/crossing guard/pilot/bus driver/ driver next to you on freeway/ school teacher/ judges/ lawyers – defense and prosecution – drinking liquor, day in day out, no restrictions?

    For a more direct answer, I would like it marginally more than them getting an equivalent alcohol buzz with the same frequency. Neither should be done while on the job, but the next effects are far less severe for marijuana than for alcohol (assuming near the same level of intoxication).

    Why is it that so many who are able to understand that alcohol can be consumed in moderation are incapable of realizing that the same is true of marijuana?

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  18. [...] And in cash-strapped California, a bill has been introduced to legalize marijuana so that it can be used as a source of tax revenue. Harry [...]

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  19. davod says:

    “Why is it that so many who are able to understand that alcohol can be consumed in moderation are incapable of realizing that the same is true of marijuana?”

    You speak from experience?

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  20. tom p says:
    “Why is it that so many who are able to understand that alcohol can be consumed in moderation are incapable of realizing that the same is true of marijuana?”

    You speak from experience?

    I do. I have a # of friends who smoke dope in moderation, hold down jobs, pay their bills, etc.

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  21. Grewgills says:

    You speak from experience?

    Not current, but yes. I lived in the Netherlands for a few years and smoked a bit. I managed to complete my Masters and was in the top three in my class. I’ve also lived in Hawaii.

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