Decriminilization could hurt economy
October 24, 2010 9:30 PM
Of all the issues on the Nov. 2 ballot, Proposition 19 is perhaps the most compelling.
The proposition, it seems, is the next logical step down the state's increasingly progressive path of liberal drug policy.
But as Election Day nears, voters may not have the story straight on this landmark measure and its economic implications.
For many recreational smokers, this legislation is something they have been wanting for years -- to be able to smoke in peace. For lawmakers however, Proposition 19 means one thing: money.
California is in the midst of a crippling $19.9 billion deficit that stands as the sole reason legalizing marijuana was ever seriously considered.
Proposition 19 would allow individuals 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana while allowing local governments to regulate and tax its commercial sale. If taxed at rates similar to that of drugs and alcohol, the state is expected to gain $1.4 billion.
This is a significant economic increase, but according to a recent report by the Cato Institute, California would collect only $352 million in additional revenue from taxation of marijuana. The other $960 million would be gained from reducing law enforcement expenditures.
The study suggests that the majority of the savings would likely come from laying off police, judges and prison guards whose services would no longer be needed.
Potentially firing more people and then adding them to unemployment in an already battered workforce is not the solution, and the millions in additional tax revenue pales in comparison to the state's overall deficit.
Many medical pot advocates are against the measure as well. If passed, the state will have the authority to regulate marijuana sales.
Those in the medical cannabis field worry this provision could give cities and counties the ability to ban marijuana sales altogether and target existing medical marijuana dispensaries, putting their businesses at risk.
Finally, perhaps the most gaping of the measure's many holes is the fact that recreational cannabis use will still be illegal under federal law.
Attorney General Eric Holder has come out and said that the Justice Department has every intention of enforcing the Controlled Substances Act in every state including California. Until it is legal on a federal level, non-medical users will be running the same risks as before.
Going commercial changes the game and doesn't come close to alleviating a significant chunk of the state's debt. Proposition 19 just comes with way too many strings attached.
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