Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Marijuana Legalization: A Burning Issue

Legalization issue won't go away anytime soon

Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Created: 07/31/2009 01:15:32 PM PDT

No matter what anyone thinks about legalizing marijuana, the issue won't
go away anytime soon.

Proponents said the legalization of marijuana would be a boon to the
state economy. The California Board of Equalization has estimated the
state could see nearly $1.4 billion per year in extra revenue from

But critics contend legalization would be prone to abuse and point to a
growing number of younger patients.

Roger Anderson, leader of the Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug
Free Community Coalition, is one of those critics. He opposes
legalization as well as taxing marijuana.

"It's a slap in the face to youth, to our communities and to
Californians, " Anderson said. "We're fed up with this nonsense. We got
fooled by Proposition 215, and we're not going to get fooled again."

Prop 215 legalized marijuana for medical purposes in California.

But the move toward legalization has recently picked up steam.

In February, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill
that would legalize and tax most uses of marijuana. Hearings are
expected to be held later this year. Medicinal marijuana would not be
taxed in the bill.

Three Los Angeles City Council members in July proposed taxing medical
marijuana at the city's more than 400 dispensaries.

The legalization issue is worth acknowledging, said Kris Hermes,
spokesman for a national medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for
Safe Access.

"It creates legitimacy around the sale of medical marijuana and
establishes it as a drug that sales can actually benefit Californians
who aren't even patients," Hermes said.

A television advertisement recently encouraged the drug's legalization
and expressed how it could help the state's budget deficit.

"The ad we just did was inspired by the immediacy of the budget crisis,
like, `Hey, this ought to be something people should be talking about;
let's strike while the iron is hot,"' said Bruce Mirken, director of
communication for the pro-marijuana group Marijuana Policy Project.

The ad, which was paid for by the Marijuana Policy Project, focuses on a
now-retired state worker who sustained multiple strokes that prompted
her to use marijuana.

"One relatively small ad campaign by itself does not get a law passed,
but it keeps the issue on the front burner as we deal with everything,"
Mirken said.

The Inland Valley Drug Free Community Coalition works to stop substance
abuse through enforcement, treatment, prevention and education. The
group works in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

Nevertheless, Anderson said he is for the marijuana ad.

"We love for that commercial to be played," he said. "It really shows
the intent and purpose of the medical marijuana fraud in California. The
true intent is to legalize marijuana through taxation. We say bring it
on with the commercial. More important, even San Francisco area stations
wouldn't play that commercial, which says a lot."

The state in 2007 collected about $100 million in sales-tax revenue from
hundreds of dispensaries for its general fund.

Mirken contends the figure could be higher because there are thousands
of people not mentioned in the report "growing and transporting
marijuana and most are not getting their income reported because it's

Anderson concedes taxing marijuana would help the state.

"So would meth, heroin and ecstasy for high schoolers ... Where do we
stop? This is a moral issue," he said. "And whatever taxes come in, they
would be far outweighed by the health care costs."

Psychological problems, depression and anxiety are side effects of
marijuana usage and contribute to higher health care costs. Marijuana
was also considered a cancerous drug under Proposition 65, Anderson

There are several issues that need to be addressed when it comes to the
legalization and taxation of marijuana, said Sandra Emerson, Cal Poly
Pomona public administration professor.

"Is there a large enough number of users to buy illegal recreational
drugs and would it have an impact on revenues the state would be able to
raise? ... I suspect there's billions of dollars in illegal transactions
the government has not received revenue from so, on that note, yes,"
Emerson said.

On another issue, she said, "We need to make the decision whether we
think recreational marijuana in small quantities is something which is
feasible and is consistent with our goals and agenda. If we say yes, and
that makes sense, then we have to figure out how to tax it like alcohol
and tobacco and stuff like that."

There are two levels of taxing - sales tax and use tax, Emerson said.

"The dilemma I'm struggling with is we allow people to buy alcoholic
beverages, but there is no control on how much they buy and we use that
money to help people through rehabilitation, " Emerson said.

"We do not want to get in the same box for recreational drugs. If we
want this to be a revenue generator, hopefully, we won't solve one
problem and create another."

Another issue is if the taxation and legalization of the marijuana
requires expensive monitoring, "They may find it more costly than they
think. It's very costly to control the behavior of 15 million people,"
Emerson said.

No comments: