The growing debate about legalizing marijuana is back in the spotlight after a California lawmaker has proposed legalizing the drug for recreational use to boost the state’s economy. Democrat Tom Ammiano, with just three months under his belt as a state lawmaker, introduced a bill Monday, saying the measure could introduce over a billion dollars a year to the state’s wallet through taxes and other fees from regulation. Under the bill, marijuana would be regulated like alcohol, allowing those 21 and older to buy, grow, sell and possess marijuana. Federal law currently prohibits the growing, transporting, using, selling, buying and possession of the drug for recreational use. The bill would ban use near schools and attach criminal penalties for those who drive under the influence.
Ammiano, of San Francisco, said he thinks the legislation is worth discussion. And that’s exactly what happened once the media got ahold of the story. Talk shows, news programs and radio shows discussed the proposed legislation, some taking calls from the public and conducting unofficial polls. The measure reportedly has support from the San Francisco sheriff who said it should be open to public debate. Also in favor is Betty Yee, who chairs the state board that collects taxes in California. She said an analysis by the state Board of Equalization shows $1.3 billion could be generated each year from tax revenues and a levy on retail sales of $50-per-ounce. The analysis also shows that legalizing marijuana could cut its street value by 50 percent and increase consumption.
The Debate: For and Against
The “gateway theory” says habitual use of a less harmful drug may lead to future use of more dangerous, illicit drugs. The so-called “gateway” drugs usually refer to alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. The theory has been put to the test numerous times and results are conflicting. Some studies show that marijuana use can lead to progressive use of drugs like cocaine, LSD, methamphetamines, heroin or prescription opiates such as OxyContin or Fentanyl. Some show no correlation at all, and others have been inconclusive.
In addition to generating money, some argue that legalized pot would take control away from dangerous gangs and cartels, and unclog the overburdened jail and court systems. It could also stimulate the economy by creating jobs, some say. Others say a $50-per-ounce tax would make it accessible only to the rich and that illegal sale and distribution would continue. Others question the morality and contradiction of the legislation, saying the government criminalized marijuana, spouting its evils, until the economic panic set in.
It’s clear the prohibition on marijuana hasn’t worked up to this point. It’s everywhere and fairly easy to obtain. But is legalization the answer? Californians have already proved they are progressive when it comes to marijuana. In 1996, over 5 million voters approved legislation to legalize marijuana for medicinal reasons. The new legislation could make the November ballot, and if it passes, will make California the first state to do so. One thing is for sure. If it does pass, more states will take a closer look at legalization. And no doubt, California will see quite a boom in population.