Legalizing Marijuana: The Golden State’s Pot Of Gold?

This week, a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana possession by adults qualified for the California ballot. The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 is coming up for a vote.

While all the standard, well-worn pot jokes and cliches were quickly pressed into service, it’s becoming obvious that unlike failed legalization initiatives in the past (of which California has had at least two), the debate will this time center around money.

California has once again become the focal point of a long-running battle over liberalizing the pot laws. Observers predict plenty of money will be spent, by both sides, in an attempt to either launch or squash what many see as an inevitable national trend.

The cultural and financial landscape has changed a lot since legalization was last on the California ballot in 1996, especially since medical marijuana passed that same year and helped to reshape popular perceptions of the herb’s usefulness.

The pace of change was given new impetus by the Obama Administration’s announcement last year that federal drug agents are being instructed to lay off pot patients and providers in states where medical marijuana is legal.

A big selling point of the pro-legalization side of the argument is that vast amount of revenue that cash-strapped California cities and counties could reap if the state legalizes and taxes the herb.

The grim fact of the matter is, California is broke. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently had to hand out IOU’s instead of paychecks to state employees. And barring some unforeseen economic miracle, there’s seemingly no easy way out of the economic morass.

Enter the burgeoning marijuana industry. Looking at just the tip of the iceberg – the legal, medical portion of the market – it quickly becomes obvious that there is a huge demand for quality cannabis, and that there is enormous economic potential.

The initiative (PDF) would legalize possession, sharing and transport of up to an ounce of pot for personal use by adults 21 and older. Marijuana could be privately grown in spaces of up to 25 square feet.

Marijuana use would still be banned in public places and in the presence of minors.

Local governments, but not the state, could impose marijuana taxes to raise revenues. Cities and counties could authorize cultivation, transportation and sale of pot, and in a controversial provision, could also locally ban marijuana.

Legalizing marijuana for all adults would, first of all, help to revive the sagging agricultural sector of California’s economy. But beyond that obvious effect, there are many other positives that could come with legalization.

Police, already strained to the limits of their manpower and budgets, could at last focus on actual crimes. Enforcement costs would drop, and perhaps more importantly, the critically frayed relationship between the law enforcement community and marijuana users could finally start some sort of healing process.

And, of course, taxing marijuana could bring in enormous revenue. According to the California Board of Equalization, a $50 per ounce tax on pot could bring in $1.4 billion to the state’s coffers – and the decreased costs of investigation, prosecution and incarceration would add several billion more on top of that.

If the measure passes – and current polling shows it enjoying around 56 percent support – California would become the first state to legalize, rather than decriminalize (reduce the penalties to civil fine levels).

Richard Lee at at Medical Marijuana Grow Shop

The initiative’s main backer, medical marijuana magnate Richard Lee of Oakland, has already spent at least $1.3 million on the effort, according to the Los Angeles Times. Most of the money so far has been spent on a professional signature-gathering effort; Lee has also assembled a crack team of campaign consultants including Chris Lehane, a veteran of the Clinton Administration.

According to Lehane, the legalization effort will include a significant online component. “There’s the potential to raise significant online resources,” he said.

Some sectors of the California marijuana community oppose the initiative – some because of the tax issue, others because of the ability of local governments to restrict marijuana, and yet others because “we like the scene the way it is now.”

But pragmatically speaking, while we’re waiting for a perfect law to come along, people are still getting busted – and in ever-increasing numbers.

Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said the increase in misdemeanor marijuana arrests, which tripled between 1990 and 2008, is an urgent reason to legalize now.

“It really is on a scale that we have never seen,” he said.

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25 Responses to Legalizing Marijuana: The Golden State’s Pot Of Gold?

  1. Ole Ole Olson March 27, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Full legalization and taxation of marijuana should have been on the Democratic platform since 2005 IMO. The revenue that this would generate, and most people would GLADLY pay it to openly enjoy cannabis, is a staggering sum.

    The Great Recession is strangely the best time to push for this too. States need money desperately. The right refuses to raise taxes on anything, and programs that have been cut to the bone for the last 10 years simply cannot take any more cuts without becoming useless. Finding new revenue streams is critical to fiscal responsibility, and this is the perfect way to do it.

  2. malcolm kyle March 27, 2010 at 4:30 am

    Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

    By its very nature prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model – the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Many of us have now finally wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation, which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco –two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

    There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection, then maybe you’re using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody ‘halfway bright’ and who’s not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding, that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem; it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

    No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer; only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

    If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    “A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”
    Abraham Lincoln

    The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while ceded control to the cartels and terrorists, regulation would mean the opposite!

  3. Calimann March 27, 2010 at 7:52 am

    This is going to be an ugly fight with lots of fearmongering trying to keep pot illegal, but I think we can win. I remember when 215 was up for the vote and all the fearmongering then, so where are all the bad things they predicted?

  4. malcolm kyle March 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

    When this is all over and freedom is once more restored to ‘the land formerly known as free’ then maybe we should give all the drug war bureaucrats a nice hemp necklace or a one way ticket to North Korea.

  5. maryjanesuncle March 27, 2010 at 8:19 am

    the tourist traffic alone would put California back on its feet, along with showing the world that the U.S.A. truly believes in personal freedom

  6. WTF March 27, 2010 at 10:37 am

    Great, a $50 per ounce tax on government and big market Philip Morris lousy low grade commercial pot with addictive additives such a nicotine is all we need. I also thought Medical Marijuana is supposed to be grown and distributed non for profit so where did Richard Lee come up with $1.3 Million to fund this recreational Marijuana legalization effort? Looks like he got this money from profits of Medical Marijuana. Can you say illegal funds?
    Looks like Richard is able to profit from MMJ but you are not allowed to.
    Am I wrong? Is he laughing at the “Sucker” written on our foreheads?

    • no sin taxes on cannabis March 27, 2010 at 8:28 pm

      He does have a convenient monopoly. He is laughing. And this language and precedent frightens me. We don’t need the rest of the country forming the mindset that sin taxing a medicinal herb is moral or acceptable. I don’t care how bankrupt any state is. Why do cannabis users need to be robbed to correct the problem they did not create.

      Somebody tell me Jacks language will make ballot status???

      • Ole Ole Olson March 28, 2010 at 7:43 am

        Taxing it is ultimately the price users have to pay in order to get it legalized. Without the promise of a new source of funding, it would be a hard sale.

  7. James March 27, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    As a citizen of California, I can tell you that 100% of my friends support legalization. Finally, some rationality in this mess! One thing: the proposed $50 per ounce is seen as especially high (ha ha) and it is definitely likely that this will encourage people to grow their own, as well as work with coops, so that the costs can be shared and lowered.

    • Deb Johnston March 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

      Yeah Richard gets to be a millionaire by selling mostly “schwag” to patients in Oakland. It’s nice to see there are other people out there who see that this initiative is not the be all end all. In fact, there is no more compassion in the’s all about “how much money can I make” . It must be nice to be able to afford big time lawyers for your campaign which actually restricts the use of marijuana.

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  9. John M March 27, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    At $50 per ounce there will still be a black market for pot, especially if other states continue to criminalize it. This needs to be much lower.

  10. It Phreak March 27, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Nice to see things coming full circle, isn’t Cali the first State to Outlaw Bud?

    • Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ March 28, 2010 at 10:19 am

      You’re right, Phreak!

      California made marijuana illegal in 1915 — the first state to do so.

  11. Robster March 28, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Sorry to be a bummer, but here in Califoria when a proposition that is unpopular with *insert special interest group here* is passed by the people it immediately gets tied up in court and most times it is ruled as ‘unconstitutional’ by some judge.

    To quote the Starkist commercial, “Sorry, Charlie.”

    • Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ March 28, 2010 at 11:05 am

      That didn’t happen with legalized medical marijuana in California, when it was passed by voter initiative in 1996.

      Neither has it happened in any of the other 14 states which have legalized medical pot.

      • prohibition is a freaking waste March 28, 2010 at 3:14 pm

        i tend to agree with Robster, but I hope he’s wrong. pissing away money on the damn courts is a waste of time, and only lines the pockets of pissant lawyers.

        i’m not a fan of pot. there’s a medical dispensary on a main thoroughfare that i have to pass contantly and the place stinks and it always looks like a bunch of losers and bottom feeders going in and out (i do not in any way exaggerate). that said, i’m much LESS of a fan having my tax dollars crapped away on just-say-no law enforcement for activities that are of a personal matter and which are really nobody’s business. i say legalize it and tax the hell out of it so those taxes don’t have to show up somewhere else.

  12. joe March 28, 2010 at 2:46 am

    You forgot to mention how private prison corporations will be very much against legalization—they’d lose half their “cash cows”, I mean, prisoners!
    They already have very powerful lobbies–Prison companies practically wrote the “3 strikes, you’re out” laws, and “mandatory minimum” sentencing, and since the companies receive federal funds on a ‘per prisoner’ basis, they’ve profited hugely from those laws.
    They’ll be sure to fight legalization with the same ferocity the insurance companies are STILL fighting health care….did I say insurance companies? I meant “Tea Parties”, I get those 2 confused….

    • Steve Elliott ~alapoet~ March 28, 2010 at 11:23 am

      Yes, the corrections and law enforcement industries will be very much against the legalization of pot; I don’t think that’s news to anyone.

      Keep in mind that they were also totally against the legalization of medical marijuana in California, but that happened anyway – 14 years ago.

      The corrections and law enforcement lobbies, as powerful as they are, can be beaten – and have been, in the 14 states which have legalized pot for medical uses.

      They can also be beaten on this issue – legalizing for all adults.

  13. Christ March 29, 2010 at 3:12 am

    I don’t support use of mind altering substances but I have to agree that pot needs to be legalized simply because the amount of drug dealers it would remove from the streets, income it would bring in, and general good it would do more society far outweigh the negatives of having more stoners wandering around.

    • wdmax March 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      Most anthropologists agree that mind altering substances have played a significant role in the evolution of humanity.

      I beleive our current human condition is a product of not fully integrating a responsible relationship with psychedelic substances. After all many beleive that the foundation of our computing technology was brought forth by the use of LSD.

  14. David March 29, 2010 at 6:39 am

    well! i think if Christ himself condones it, we have a good chance of getting it legallized! (well CALIFORNIA does… lucky bastards)

  15. yaright March 29, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Go Cali Go Go

  16. Maria March 29, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Check out my Supporters under my name.YOU Bet, we all want that

  17. cheap April 2, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    who cares, the federal law trumps the state law so it really does not matter what law they have about this

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