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Time for state to debate pot legalization

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POSTED July 27, 2009 1:34 a.m.

Call it reefer madness.


Oakland voters on Tuesday created a business-tax category for the selling of pot from store front operations.


The pot clubs that under California law are licensed to sell pot for medicinal purposes were paying $1.20 per $1,000 of gross receipts. Since passage of Measure F, that tax rate will jump to $18 per $1,000 of sales.


Backers of legalizing marijuana applauded the move as it adds to the effort to legalize pot.


There is one slight problem with all of this. If doctors are prescribing marijuana for medical reasons, then how can it be taxed? Prescription drugs are exempt from taxes. Marijuana is a drug and if a doctor is writing out a note allowing a patient to legally buy it then it is a prescription as well.


Studies have shown that pot can be effective in providing relief to those with AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma among other afflictions. It is true that there are doctors making pitches on the internet to pay them so they can prescribe pot for things such as PMS, back pain, and more. There is no research to support such assumptions. If marijuana were regulated like other medicinal drugs by the federal government, then there would be a standard.


Then again, who is fooling who? It is hard to believe Los Angeles has enough seriously ill people to support the 500 plus medicinal dispensaries of marijuana in that city. All of their customers are not ill.


Whether one likes it or not, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is right that the time has come for a serious debate. There is a need to keep pot use in check and to start making it pay for government services.


It costs a ton of money to keep drinking in check. Manteca, as an example, has a full-time officer funded for DUI enforcement by the state as well as to run sobriety checkpoints thanks in part to revenues from taxes on alcohol. Marijuana for the most part isn’t bringing in cash to pay for the cost of enforcement of consumption standards as alcohol does.


Not that it is justification to legalize it, but the State Board of Equalization has estimated that San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s proposed legislation to legalize pot and slap it with a $50 per once tax would generate $1.4 billion for the state in new taxes.


Of course, if someone is paying that money in taxes they don’t have funds for something else.


A debate on the subject would also have to include a component on what to do with home-grown pot. Those advocating legalizing pot need to remember there is a down-side. The revenue agents that went after moonshiners back in the 1920s and 1930s weren’t doing so because the home brewed stuff could kill someone but because they were growing it for profit and avoiding the payment of taxes.


Any debate on legalizing needs to include much tougher consequences for growing at home for sale by adding real teeth with mandatory 10 year prison sentences. One can’t use the argument that legalizing pot is a good way to raise taxes without expecting a heavy fist to come down on those who try to skirt the law.


Rest assured if the federal government embraced legalizing pot they’d view any grown at home for profit as contraband and would deal with it much more severely than some hapless Joe arrested with a ounce of marijuana on him.


The governor’s call for a debate makes all the more sense given how local jurisdictions are dealing with the implementation of medicinal marijuana as allowed under Proposition 215. Oakland obviously has a much tighter rein on things than Los Angeles.


It is disingenuous to simply use the need to generate more taxes as a reason to legalize marijuana. A debate needs to go forward since it seems wildly unfair that someone in Oakland with glaucoma is now subject to a much higher tax to secure medicinal pot than someone in Los Angeles.


Marijuana needs to be a controlled substance much like cigarettes and alcohol and subject to state and federal taxes and regulations and not the whims of local jurisdictions.

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com





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