Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Smoking our way out of the red...

You may have heard that the California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced the increasingly infamous AB 390, a measure that would legalize, regulate, and tax the production, wholesale, and retail of marijuana. His contention is that the taxes alone would generate over a billion dollars per year in revenue.

Part of the tax revenue would go to bullshit "awareness" and prevention campaigns (you remember the ones from school, right? A school assembly where some asshat comes to tell you "Just Say No" and all it does is make you want to sneak behind the bleachers and smoke a bowl during chemistry? I'm being fairly glib here, but I really hate wasted resources, however well-intentioned, be it anti-drug campaigns, those insufferable tobacco "Truth" ads, sensitivity / sexual harrassment training seminars, etc.), but the real savings would come from no longer incarcerating non-violent marijuana crimes. Particularly wise is striking the following from the California Health and Safety Code:

11359. Every person who possesses for sale any marijuana, except as otherwise provided by law, shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison.

With AB 390, this is gone. In 2007 alone, California had 16,000 felony arrests for marijuana, and marijuana-related offenses are responsible for upwards of 34% of California's prison population (at $30,000 a head per year, that's a chunk of change). Talk about some savings, and a better use of law enforcement man hours.

Under the Bush Administration and the reign of some of the most extremist attorneys general in memory, this idea would have surely been met with some heavy-handed federal opposition. Riding the heels of AG Holder's announcement that medical marijuana laws would be left to the states to enforce, perhaps we could hope that the Obama administration would allow a state to implement something like AB 390.