No Better Time to End Cannabis Prohibition

Written by FCJ Editor. Posted in Culture, Opinion, Politics

Published on March 02, 2009 with 6 Comments

Commentary by Patrick Goggin

March 2, 2009

After staring down the barrel at California’s $43 billion budget deficit for the past several months, rookie San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano last week introduced legislation to legalize and tax marijuana. A self-described “martini guy,” Ammiano rightfully identifies California and the nation’s number-one cash crop as a great revenue generator during a time when: “We’re all jonesing now for money.” The time appears near for legalizing and regulating cannabis in all its forms and uses.

Seventy-two years ago during the nation’s last great economic crisis, Harry Anslinger, as Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led the charge to replace alcohol prohibition with cannabis when FDR signed into law the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. Tragically, this Act also led to the demise of the highly versatile industrial cannabis crop , aka hemp, with the last known legal US hemp crop farmed in Wisconsin in 1957.

Today, science has increasingly shown the incredible value of the species Cannabis Sativa L. which can be used as a medicine, in food, in textiles, building materials, and as an energy source. But, for years,we mostly heard it stigmatized as a “gateway drug.” Yet cannabis is no more of a gateway drug than alcohol, tobacco, or sugar—and studies have shown it is far less harmful than these when used recreationally. Indeed, the time has come for a more sensible drug policy and Ammiano’s legalization bill is a great first step.

The opposition will no doubt be fierce. John Lovell, a zealous lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers Association and myriad other state law enforcement agencies, rarely meets defeat in opposing legislation, and you know he’s on this like flies on…. From 2005-07, I experienced first-hand going up against Lovell. On behalf of the hemp industry, I helped shepherd then Assemblyman Mark Leno’s hemp legalization bills through the legislature only to watch them unceremoniously vetoed twice by Lovell’s buddy Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While 2009 is no comparison economically to 2007, legalizing all forms of cannabis is much less innocuous than legalizing hemp. Handled adeptly, Ammiano’s foray just might pay off, and in multiple ways.

Just take a look at the projected numbers. By some reasonable accounts, if this legislation becomes law the state would save $1.7 billion annually by eliminating cannabis enforcement and incarceration while generating $1 billion annually from taxation. Add in the revenues and jobs generated from industrial cannabis farming and manufacturing,  and the bill would seem to have legs. In fact, Ammiano is already garnering support from the right. Build a large enough coalition, Ammiano, and this bill will be formidable.

Back in the 70s, Schwarzenegger enjoyed smoking his cannabis. Yet he conveniently forgot his affinity for the plant when vetoing the hemp bills. Later this year, redemption might be in the offing if Ammiano is successful in moving his timely legislation through the legislature to the Governor’s desk. To do so, he will need to shake loose the grip of Lovell and the old drug warriors. Read the tea leaves Arnold: the cannabis plant’s time has come.

schwarzenegger_smoking_joint.jpg
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Kindly terminate Ansliger and Lovell’s tired zealotry in California thereby returning rationality to our drug and agriculture policy.  Sign Ammiano’s bill, Governor, and help end the cannabis prohibition now.