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Tuesday, Feb 24, 2009, 10:34 am

Weed as Cash Cow? Calif. Considers Legalization

By Jeremy Gantz
If California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has his way, the Golden State might become known as the Green State to pot smokers around the country.

During a press conference Monday morning in San Francisco, Ammiano introduced "The Marijuana Control, regulation and education act." The far-reaching bill would go well beyond decriminalization of marijuana to actually legalize the cultivation, sale, purchase and possession of the plant, the San Francisco Weekly reported.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense," Ammiano said. "This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes."

The proposed legislation is truly progressive, because by refusing to see immorality (and society's collapse) in an adult's choice to smoke marijuana, it represents a total break with the failed "War On Drugs." But that's not all: It goes beyond the morality debate, deep into the realm of pragmatism, by conceiving of California marijuana as a giant cash cow.

As announced yesterday, the state of California would receive a $50 fee for every ounce of pot sold (which would be on top of whatever that ounce's actual price is in a future free market). That fee and a proposed sales tax on medical marijuana would mean $1.3 billion "immediately," according to Betty Yee, the chairwoman of the Board of Equalization who was at yesterday's press conference. I wonder what the annual weed revenues would be, especially in a state that just barely averted a major fiscal disaster late last week. Yee called the new proposal "a responsible measure on how to work out the regulatory framework of the legalization of marijuana."

Interestingly, Yee thinks that halving marijuana's street price would cause consumption to increase 40 percent, but that the $50 per ounce levy would cut use by 11 percent. I don't know how she could possibly calculate that, given that no U.S. state has ever experimented with these kinds of policy. Maybe she studied Amsterdam.

Will the bill pass? That's a purely rhetorical question. For more on this progressive - but perhaps doomed - legislation, read here and here.

Jeremy Gantz was the Web/Associate Editor of In These Times from 2008 to 2012. His January 2011 cover story for the magazine, "Terrorist by Association," was selected as a finalist for the Molly National Journalism Award 2012. He is now a contributing editor to the magazine, focusing on labor issues.

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