California’s weed revenue may go up in smoke
California’s weed revenue may go up in smoke. Voters in the indebted American state will decide next week whether to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, allow citizens to grow their own and give local authorities control over whether and how the drug would be sold commercially. Big bucks are at stake too.
State authorities reckon they could harvest up to $1.4 billion in sales and excise taxes on the back of Proposition 19. Stoners and bondholders are stoked on the idea. But even if it passes, the whole idea looks half-baked.
Passage is far from certain. Sentiment seems to be trending against the measure in recent polls. Unwillingness by voters to admit they support decriminalization, however, makes it hard to handicap the odds. One important constituent is standing firm though.
The Department of Justice has made clear it remains committed to enforcing federal law regardless of the ballot results. The government can prohibit sales in California and send agents to arrest those who collect excise taxes on pot sales. They also might go to court to prevent localities from issuing licenses to grow and sell commercially. But there aren’t enough federal agents to shut down the industry without the help of local police, meaning enforcement would be patchy.
The ballot initiative won’t really give additional clarity on possession either. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger already approved a bill earlier this year that downgraded having an ounce or less of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction. The $100 penalty is now on par with a traffic violation.
Basically, the biggest referendum on marijuana has become a hash. And that’s a shame after it even managed to bring octogenarian billionaire George Soros onto the same side as teenage potheads. The related social and health concerns aren’t inconsequential. But making marijuana legal and taxing it should raise revenue, remove commonly flouted laws and reduce smuggling and related crime.
The feds and the confusing aspects of Proposition 19, as written, mean the initiative is unlikely to accomplish any of those beneficial goals. At best, this measure might start a grown-up dialogue among national politicians. But even that’s probably just a pipe dream.