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.

  • Yeah we are jonesing for money folks– but getting it from a narcotic (which is hardly as miraculous as it is benign) is rather pathetic.

    I’m sure it will suit the banksters who are making off with the bulk of this country’s wealth at the moment.

    In every recession/depression you can count on beer and cheap entertainment to do well. People want to forget. And dope– I won’t say it hasn’t helped some just as I wouldn’t say that a few movie stars didn’t cure their cancers south of the border.

    So i’m a cube– but think about it: Is decriminalization as it is being pursued based on a solid good health model? Or is money and identity interests driving it?

    I yearn for a society where kids can get a good education and grow up sound and strong. I see sick people in the streets– ask them about gateways. “OC 60… OC 80”. Is all you hear walking down any block in the Tenderloin. And it is the kids that are smokin’– and becoming adults that are tweakin’.

    Has anyone in SF heard of the British studies that associate skunk marijauna as being a springboard to schizophrenia in a small, but significant population? Any doctors out there?

    Recreational drugs (the impetus behind the mostly medicinal illusion) are a tour for the poor– a sad blight that reflects not a healthy, but a sick society. They are a godsend to keep the ruling class in power and the disadvantaged poor and stupid.

    To be clear to those who do not understand what I write here:

    Drugs should be wisely and carefully decriminalized and dispensed– ideally as part of what we need first: a universal national health insurance program that cuts out obscene profits to corporate entities that do not really care about your health or mine.

    To get excited about revenues from something that causes as much sorrow to some as amelioration to others is premature. I predict we will have a poorer society for it. We should draw our taxes from healthy, not contentious industries– and the marijuana industry is far from proven as a good one. Our economy needs more than a resuscitated rope industry.

    Fixing budget woes on a pipe dream strikes me as a cheap unconscionable fix. True, some people are in need of their drug– so we are to tax a drug that helps them?! Does anyone else smell the hypocrisy?

    If I had a child with glaucoma or cancer pain, I would want the best for them. That would not mean their having to visit dens guarded by questionable characters with tats. They would get help from a real doctor. I would want my child to be free of drugs to make informed choices when they were mature. I am distressed that drugs are too readily available to the young today.

  • marc

    Why do Livingston and Lovell insist upon lying against the position of legalizing recreational cannabis, a position which is becoming more and more mainstream and consensus over time?

    1. Pharmacologically, marijuana is not a narcotic, THC is classified as a mild hallucinogen. Opiates and barbituates are narcotics.

    2. Revenue is what puts marijuana legalization over the tipping point above and beyond the other reasons to decriminalize conduct which should not consume law enforcement resources.

    3. Bruce is sober. Where is the leadership amongst those on the wagon to confront the banksters for their crimes, or do the teetotlers just blame the stoners for their inability to confront the criminals responsible for economic apocalypse? If we were all sober, then we’d be as miserable as you.

    4. In the absence of critical mass to change things, should we all be forced to take on the full sting of crisis or should we safely numb ourselves to hope to avoid PTSD?

    5. Are the potential side effects of marijuana really any more dangerous than the potential side effects of a lifetime of working or driving?

    6. Is the argument here that because Bruce believes that the poor are enslaved by marijuana, that it should be illegal for the non-poor? Perhaps Bruce wants to suggest an income test in order to purchase legal pot?

    7. The ruling class is kept in power not because 40m Americans smoke pot rather because nobody, including the 260m who are not pot smokers, has figured out how to successfully challenge their rule.

    8. Drugs should be used wisely? And just which philosopher king should we turn to for such a judgment as to the wisdom of use?

    9. If pot were a gateway drug of any significance, then there would be a correlation between the number of people who smoke pot and the number who use hard drugs, a correlation which simply does not exist.

    10. Poor folks are not your children and do not need the paternalism of the liberal wealthy.

    11. The “War On Drugs” [sic] has cost two generations dearly on policing, imprisonment, crimping careers of those caught up in the hysteria and illicit business violence.

    -marc

  • Last night at a Budget Crisis town hall meeting at the Unitarian Church I heard the reasonable expectation that the 500+ Million dollar discretionary city budget shortfall can be whittled down by finding new sources of revenues.

    To find them would certainly be preferable to watching our health and social services disappear.

    But alarm bells sounded in my mind, as I was not clear where those new revenue sources will be found.

    In a time of real crisis, I fear it becomes tempting to Imagine marijuana as a cash cow capable of pragmatically solving many of our budgetary woes.

    What a mistake that would be! We are becoming a society that depends on lotteries, sin taxes, bridge tolls and public property usage fees… and soon… pharmaceuticals?! What will we become should health programs become coupled to cannabis taxes?

    Why instead don’t we simply tax the richest of the rich who (with the help of their wiley accountants) escape paying taxes year in and year out?

    With all billions of dollars reported missing daily– does it occur to anyone as it does me that there exists a law of the conservation of mass: that nothing truly “disappears”, but rather goes somewhere?

    I think our politicians owe it to us to tell us where these billions have gone, and then help get them back– and not to devise new and more clever ways of ripping us off.

  • tomrh1948

    Just read the Consumers Union Report “Licit & Illicit Drugs” 1972 from Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumers Report, to get an indepth report of ALL drugs known at the time. Also look up California’s own President Nixon’s Paid for report on the Evil Weed that he lied about doing whatever his own personally appointed commission recommended. He buried it and the report just now has been released. No bias just facts. The Dupont Corp. didn’t have any say in these as they did in the 30’s to have another public enemy so they could introduce their own synthetic product and bail the Federal Government out of outright losing the ” War Against Alcohol”.

  • marc

    Are you against using tobacco settlement dollars to fund public health as well?

    Talk about the perfect becoming the enemy of the good!

    Bruce: you are fortunate enough economically that if you wished you could contribute mightily towards a campaign to tax the rich.

    The dollar is a fiat currency and is only worth as much as people believe the economy that backs it up is worth.

    Money is not matter, not subject to the laws of thermodynamics; it can be created and destroyed. Look up the notion of fractional reserve lending to get a clue on how money is created.

    Whining about a relatively safe drug as if you were channeling Nancy Reagan and whining about the rich not paying their fair share might make you feel good, but does nothing to advance the agenda.

    Ammiano’s legislation advances the agenda by prioritizing enforcement and taxing a luxury item and should be enthusiastically supported.

    -marc

  • jeffmotamorfosis

    very good post!

    honestly, can you believe this plant was made illegal back in the 1930s?
    because of the seedling industries played dirty propaganda games in favor of the petro oil industries, tobacco, alcohol, paper farms & newspapers & lilBigPharma. cannabis and hemp were major hurdles to these industries which continue to pollute our earth and kill thousands of humans daily. unfortunately these corporations continue to lob thousands of dollars in profits to fill our politicians coffers to perpetuate the plants illegality. truly sickening!

    Please mr Obama help spend our taxpayer dollars wisely and end the cannabis and hemp war. the earth is over 4 BILLION year old. cannabis and HEMP have been evolving for a hell of along time! the notion of keeping this national drug war…until the year 4200 seems absolutely absurd to me. please lets get it done in the americas by 2010?! christ these weeds can grow virtually anywhere.

    lets nourish these plants and allow them to nourish consenting adults at their pleasure. don’t lock up people for enjoying cannabis and hemp. save those prison cells for people who commit something besides consuming a plant! and those poor POWS caught up in this drug war i truly hope you find freedom and payment for this horrible outrage against humanity.

    MA may legalize !! http://www.cantaxreg.com/
    wow, LEGALIZE/REGULATE/TAX cannabis & HEMP has some momentum that will naturally lead to a national leagalization movement sooner than anyone may have imagined?