According to a 2008 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 41% of Americans (102 million) have admitted to using cannabis in their lifetime. In a 2009 Zogby poll, it was reported that 44% of Americans support the legalization of cannabis. To put this in perspective, Americans support this change of policy more than they approve of Congress’ job performance or the war in Afghanistan. If these ever-growing numbers are any indication, we are inevitably heading towards the legalization and regulation of the cannabis/hemp industry. How long will it take until what is rapidly becoming America’s mandate becomes its actual policy? My friends, I have a prediction that cannabis will be legal within America’s borders by 2011. Some may see this as overly optimistic, but hear me out: the key here is our old pal California.
Joey Ramone once said, “We’re out here having fun in the warm California Sun.” Well, Joey, you’re not alone! Americans love to have fun in California. If each state were its own country, California would still be the 7th largest economy in the world. Despite its great financial and human capital, California has found itself in quite a pickle. With a $27 billion budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has enacted massive cuts in government spending for education, social safety nets and prison systems.
“It’s time for a debate [on the legalization of marijuana],” the Governator said. “I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it. I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs.”
Enter Representative Tom Ammiano and his bill that proposes legalizing and regulating cannabis in the same way we do with alcohol. It is estimated that his plan would produce $1.4 billion in state tax revenue every year. In a state desperate for income, cannabis taxes could be a vital tool for balancing the budget. Cannabis is practically legal in California already. The medical cannabis laws in California are the most liberal in the U.S. Nearly anyone can get a “recommendation” for medical cannabis, whether it be for insomnia, chronic pain, depression, or whatever “problem” you want to use as an excuse. Medical cannabis dispensaries, or “cannabis clubs,” have surged in numbers and are finding great financial success in California. Recently, Oakland passed the country’s first tax on the sale of cannabis, further legitimizing the industry. Why not give up the charade, fully legalize and reap all the benefits of this much-needed policy change?
Additionally, Californians should understand the dangers of keeping cannabis illegal. According to Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, the Mexican drug cartels receive 65-70% of their revenue from cannabis sales. This indicates that if we remove the cannabis industry from the black market, the cartels will be significantly weakened. The Mexican Drug War, which has so far taken over 15,000 lives since 2006, is threatening the security and stability of California, both at the border and within the heart of the state. One of California’s massive forest fires this summer was suspected to have been caused by a Mexican drug cartel’s grow operation hidden in the woods. Why continue to provide these criminals with profits when the rewards could instead go to Uncle Sam?
Prohibition is not stopping anyone from smoking. Rather, it is only creating dangerous externalities. California is the future, friends. There are currently three different legalization proposals collecting signatures to be placed on the ballot, and I’m hoping all three qualify. A recent field poll shows that 56% of Californians support legalization. It only seems natural to bail out the Golden State with some Acapulco Gold. Let’s make it happen.
The Justice Department’s decision to end federal prosecution of medical marijuana is a major political victory for us drug reformers. Remember, we currently have a massive federal deficit. There needs to be some major fiscal restructuring once this recession subsides, and I’m sure the Drug War is a major candidate for re-evaluation. Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia has already proposed a bill, the National Criminal Justice Act of 2009, which will create a bipartisan commission dedicated to prison and justice system reform. Drug laws in particular are being reviewed. When asked by the Huffington Post if legalization of cannabis was being considered, Webb responded, “I think everything should be on the table.” There are both local and national signs of change. This is not an issue of the left versus the right, either. Right-wingers such as George Will, Glenn Beck, Ron Paul, and William F. Buckley all have pledged their support for legal cannabis. I can smell the change in the air… and it’s dank, yo. O