As first brought to you as breaking news on OPEA’s Break room podcast last week, California is looking at marijuana as an answer to their economic woes. It begs the question, “Are they high?”
According to news reports, Democratic State Assembly member Tom Ammiano thinks is a great idea. Ammiano introduced legislation last month that would legalize pot and allow the state to regulate and tax its sale — a move that could mean billions for the cash-strapped state. Pot is, after all, California’s biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion in annual sales, dwarfing the state’s second largest agricultural commodity — milk and cream — which brings in $7.3 billion annually, according to the most recent USDA statistics. The state’s tax collectors estimate the bill would bring in about $1.3 billion in much-needed revenue a year, offsetting some of the billions in service cuts and spending reductions outlined in the recently approved state budget.
“The state of California is in a very, very precipitous economic plight. It’s in the toilet,” says Ammiano. “It looks very, very bleak, with layoffs and foreclosures and schools closing or trying to operate four days a week. We have one of the highest rates of unemployment we’ve ever had. With any revenue ideas people say you have to think outside of the box, you have to be creative, and I feel that the issue of the decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana fits that bill. It’s not new, the idea has been around, and the political will may in fact be there to make something happen.”
“California was one of the first states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana in 1996,” said OPEA Deputy Director Scott Barger. “They currently have a sales tax on the sale of medical marijuana as well. Somehow, I don’t think this is an idea that will catch on in Oklahoma though.”
Despite the projected and much-needed revenue, opponents say legalizing pot will only add to social woes. “The last thing we need is yet another mind-altering substance to be legalized,” says John Lovell, lobbyist for several law enforcement groups. “We have enough problems with alcohol and abuse of pharmaceutical products: do we really need to add yet another mind-altering substance to the array?” Lovell says the easy availability of the drug will lead to a surge in its use, much like what happened when alcohol was allowed to be sold in venues other than liquor stores in some states.
“If something like this were to pass in California it would give new meaning to ‘smoke filled, back room deals.’ Only in California,” Barger laughed.