Ending reefer madness

AB 390 brings the state a step closer to sanity

California has moved one step closer to ending its expensive, harmful and ultimately futile effort to keep people from using marijuana.

That step takes the form of a new bill, AB 390, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, that would allow the sale and taxation of marijuana. Ammiano’s main argument is that the bill would generate significant income—an estimated $1.3 billion annually—for a cash-strapped state by controlling and taxing the sale of marijuana, while freeing law enforcement agencies to focus on serious crimes.

Opponents argue that legalizing the use and sale of marijuana sends the wrong message to young people at a time when the consequences of substance abuse are widely recognized. We understand that perspective but respectfully suggest that it’s wishful thinking, not reality.

Kids don’t refrain from smoking pot because it’s illegal, anymore than they refrain from drinking alcohol before they’re 21 years old for the same reason. Their levels of restraint and attitudes toward substances have far more to do with the kind of people they are and, particularly, how their parents reared them than with any law.

Besides, the prohibitions on marijuana simply aren’t working, as is made more than evident by the fact that marijuana is the biggest cash crop in California, with estimated annual sales of $14 billion. All of our efforts—and billions of dollars spent on law enforcement, court and prison costs—to suppress it have been an abject failure. Given that irrefutable fact, why not legalize and tax it?

Ammiano’s bill would allocate a significant portion of the tax revenues to fund drug-education programs, and it would not go into effect unless and until the federal ban on pot is lifted.

It’s telling that the two main groups who don’t want marijuana to be legalized are the marijuana growers and dealers who supply it and the law enforcement organizations that try to suppress it. They rely on each other—to keep prices high and untaxed, in the one case, and to keep tax dollars flowing, in the other.

Californians have largely decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, and legalized its use for medical purposes. Why not take the next step?