Ask any person walking around San Francisco, let alone a college student, if they think marijuana should be legalized. Most will say yes. Some may cite recreational use without police interference, but many will point to the hope that the regulation and taxation of marijuana would create a new tax source from which the state could benefit.
Though medical marijuana is federally illegal, it has been legal in California since 1995, with hundreds of dispensaries across the state today. It has been taxed since 2005 as any other legal commodity in the state, but established growers of medical marijuana worry that new legalized growers will interfere with their business.
Politicians in favor of Prop 19 argue that all this income to the state will come as a result of regulation and taxation. None of the people in office, however, have given any suggestion for how that will be done. This is probably it is a nearly impossible task. A clear method for collecting taxes and enforcing regulation should be established before the bill is passed.
What makes the government think that people who have successfully hidden growth and distribution for so many years will suddenly come out of the woodwork and willingly hand over a portion of their profits to the state? Taxed growers would make far fewer earnings than those who remain underground, thus negating the motivation for growers to subject themselves to regulation and taxation. If the plant becomes legal in November, the free market price would plummet over $250 to only $38 an ounce, which is great for buyers but incomprehensible for growers.
The only thing taxation would do is inspire massive tax evasion by people who are good at hiding. No one will choose to pay a tax on a product that is so lucrative for those who manage to conceal their growing operations. Besides, Prop 19 doesn’t even require the state to tax marijuana; it simply gives local governments the opportunity to decide their own rates for regulation and taxation, which is a public-policy nightmare.
On Oct. 1, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449 that changed possession of less than an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Though the fine remains $100, it effectively decriminalized weed in California. This has already begun to drastically reduce the amount of people in jail for marijuana-related offenses and the amount of taxpayer dollars spent keeping them there (Trans World News). Many proponents of legalization argue that harmless pot smokers soak up our taxpayer dollars in jail, and yet this bill already benefits the state’s pocketbook without the moral issues that inevitably come into play when discussing legalization.
Schwarzenegger says, “Proposition 19 is a deeply flawed measure that, if passed, will adversely impact California’s businesses without bringing in the tax revenues to the state promised by its proponents.” Even if Proposition 19 passes in November, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on it. From an economic standpoint, California should put off the legalization of marijuana for recreational use as long as possible.
Ashby Conwell is a sophomore sociology major
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