Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I Do Not Sniff The Coke

Tom Ammiano is beginning his term in the Assembly by proposing Assembly Bill 390, which seeks to legalize the growing and selling of marijuana. Mostly, this looks like a typical stunt by an SF pol trying to make a splash. There's a lot of natural resistance to pot legalization that you can expect from not just the GOP and law enforcement, but also some of the more temperate Dems. The only people who have shown any enthusiasm for legalization are Libertarians, progressives, and potheads in general; not exactly the Best and the Brightest. I have to wonder how hard Ammiano is going to push this.

Still, I think legalization is something that should be discussed seriously. Casual marijuana use in CA has effectively been decriminalized by state authorities (can't say the same for the Feds, who do most of the enforcement). Californians have supported medical marijuana initiatives not once, but twice, and by wide margins. And, there are a LOT of pot smokers out here; more than just potheads and deadheads loitering on Haight Street. You can find pot smoked at all levels of society, from the top to the bottom. It is so pervasive that you really can't call this law breaking; it's civil disobedience. 

The counter is that marijuana is a "gateway drug." Honestly, I don't believe this, but that's based solely on my observations in the field (strictly for research purposes, I assure you!), and anecdotal reports from satisfied users. And then there's this:

"The last thing our society needs is yet more legal intoxicants," said John Lovell, who represents the California Peace Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Narcotic Officers' Association. "We've got enough social problems now when people aren't in charge of all five of their senses."
Those are the words of a man who has peeled a few faces up off the pavement. And, I think he captures my primary objection to legalization. We have spent the last 40+ years educating people about the dangers of smoking, and 25+ years warning about the dangers of drunk driving. Now, Ammiano proposes to legalize a substance that combines the intoxicating effects of alcohol with the potential health risks posed by smoking. 

(I know. I know. Pot proponents are always going on about how healthy their chosen libation is. Give me a break. Light use is perfectly safe, I'm sure, but I've lived in SF long enough to see how debilitating heavy pot use can be over the long term. It really does make you stupid and it really does hurt your lungs.)

To persuade folks like me, Ammiano says, "Think of all the $$ the state will make, both in job creation and taxes!" I hate it when progressives turn on their "green eyeshade" act. But, if there's one thing we've learned from economics, it's that artificially suppressing a desired commodity will not eradicate that commodity. It will, instead, distort the market for that commodity. And the marijuana market in CA is certainly the worst of all worlds. Right now, billions are being spent growing it, buying it, and prosecuting its possession and sale. The only people making $$ are unsavory criminals, hypocritical "medical marijuana dispensaries," and those guys who sell bongs strictly for "decorative" purposes. 

The state of affairs in the so-called Golden Triangle (Humboldt County and environs) is especially scandalous. Marijuana has become THE cash crop up there, at least in part because CA's environmental laws and buiness regulations have made "normal" farming and logging, which is what they used to in the Golden Triangle, prohibitively expensive if not effectively illegal. That's simply ridiculous. (then again, it might also mean that, were pot to be legalized, it would also become impossible to grow legally in CA. Oh, the irony!)

Anyway, I'm somewhat torn, but not really. The prohibition as represented by the War on Drugs has failed to eradicate the use of marijuana. Perversely, its use has only increased. I normally dismiss the efforts of the likes of Tom Ammiano out of hand, but I think his proposal - if it's a serious one - deserves attention. 

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