Can Legalizing Weed Save Cali?

Well, no, it can’t.

A new estimate says legalizing marijuana would net the Golden State around $1.4 billion dollars. Their current budget gap is something like $26 billion. But it would, no doubt, make a dent. That’s why there’s a bill to legalize, tax, and regulate weed sales that’s been introduced in the California Assembly. Tax officials bas their estimate on a $50 dollar per ounce fee, as well as revenue from sales taxes.

Call me old fashioned, but I have a problem with the idea of legalizing something to make money from it. Sort of brings up the question why was it illegal for so long? It smacks of political and financial expediency. That said, it does make sense. I know there are some old stoners in California looking at that $50 dollar an ounce fee and thinking “I can remember when an ounce cost less than that”! Yet the logic of the bill’s sponsor, San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano rings true. With California’s legislature unable (as of Thursday) to reach a budget agreement, with furloughs, state IOUs, and cutbacks the order of the day, can the state really afford not to take a look at this potential revenue source?

Some facts are in order. California is the nation’s largest marijuana producing state. Last year, law enforcement seized 5.3 million plants. At the same time, residents consumed an estimated 500 tons of weed, implying that the law can only interdict so much. So the question really becomes, can the state afford to ignore what’s going on under their nose?

Of course, medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. There’s also a move afoot to tax that as well, especially now that the Justice Dept. under Attorney General Eric Holder has taken a more rational position on federal raids on dispensaries. Other states will be keeping a close eye on what California does. Whether by legislation or referendum, Cali is a bellwether state. As it goes, so goes the rest of America, or so the thinking goes.

It’s just interesting how financial necessity becomes the mother of invention. Would efforts at legalization be taken so seriously if California’s economy was steaming along? Will the black market dry up completely if marijuana is legal? Can the state’s tax collection system adapt itself to properly monitor sales and collect revenue?

All these are hypothetical questions that in a way put the cart before the horse. Let’s see what happens when the Assembly takes up Tom Ammiano’s bill. Legalization opponents, especially those in law enforcement, won’t simply go away. After all, weed seizure is big business to them.

What do you think? Will California bite the bullet and legalize marijuana? Should they?


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