An initiative petition, bankrolled by a "marijuana activist", to "Regulate, Control and Tax" (read legalize) pot has enough signatures to get on the November California ballot.
At first glance, as a Californian, I believe our state’s future is so bleak that legal pot may be a necessary diversion, along with alcohol and Hollywood, for one to mentally survive the once Golden State’s death spiral.
Apparently, many Californians are attracted by the virtues of legal pot. A 2009 Field Poll showed 56% support for the measure with that support cutting across the usual partisan and age categories.
A lot of money is at stake too. Marijuana is California’s biggest cash crop by far. With an estimated $15 billion in yearly sales, pot easily dwarfs the second most valuable agricultural product–milk and cream–worth only $7.3 billion a year.
Pot growing has been, particularly in Northern California, a "mom and pop" operation. More recently, wildfires in the state and federal forest lands in Southern California revealed elaborate marijuana plantations established by Mexican drug cartels.
The initiative would, if passed, "make it legal for anyone 21 and older to possess an ounce of marijuana and grow plants in an area no larger than 25 square feet for personal use. It would also allow cities and counties to permit marijuana to be grown and sold, and to impose taxes on marijuana production and sales."
With annual state and local government deficits growing ever larger and lasting longer than the drought, the prospect of taxing $15 billion of the underground (currently untaxed) economy is a real plus for proponents of the initiative.
The California Peace Officers’ Association disagrees. They oppose pot legalization because "drug use among children will rise, highway fatalities will increase, crime will generally rise, and the state will lose billions in federal dollars".
Proponents counter that a University of California 2003 study of pot legalization in the Netherlands showed no increase in use, that California’s driving while impaired laws will still apply, that legal pot could only be sold to those 21 and older, and that studies indicate a multi-billion dollar new tax windfall for local government from the sale of legal pot.
"Marijuana activist" and entrepreneur Richard Lee put $1.3 million into the drive to get the required signatures to put the initiative on the November ballot. Lee is the founder of Oakland, California’s Oaksterdam University, which holds classes to train students to grow pot and run marijuana businesses. Medical Marijuana has been legal in California for 14 years. During that time, an infrastructure of legal marijuana "clinics" and growers has grown up in California.
Pot is already big business in California–both legal and illegal. In fact, it is not only California’s biggest cash crop but about the only industry that is growing and thriving here.
Marijuana growing has long been a way of life in Humboldt county around the Northern California town of Eureka. Environmentalists have driven out the traditional industries of timber and fishing. Taking their place, pot farming has become so profitable that the area is now known as the "Emerald Triangle".
But is legalization a good thing for Humboldt County ? Local leaders tout the job creation associated with "marijuana tourism" and "marijuana products and services".
Some growers disagree and fear legalization would hurt their bottom line. The street value of pot has dropped some in the last few years due to increased supplies from Mexico and the newer, larger pot plantations established by the Mexican drug lords in California. Legalization could mean more supply and even lower prices as each user is allowed to cultivate their own.
Looks like the campaign will have fascinating twists and turns. And, once again, California will lead the nation, whatever the outcome on November 8.