Marijuana reform necessary, but unlikely
Once again California stands on the verge of setting a precedent with marijuana policy reform. After receiving well over the required number of signatures, the "Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010," will be placed on the ballot for the upcoming November elections. The proposed bill would allow local governments to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana, legalize the possession of up to an ounce of pot for personal use and also allow households to grow marijuana in an area of up to 25 square feet.
For marijuana activists the timing could not be any better. California's fragile economic state has created the perfect environment for marijuana proponents; allowing supporters to cultivate and harvest the most progressive piece of marijuana legislation since the countrywide prohibition began in 1937.
Advocates of legalization have wisely used the potential economic windfall, associated with taxing and regulating marijuana, to propel their movement. Conservative estimates place the annual revenue generated by California's underground marijuana economy in the neighborhood of $14 billion. The potential economic benefit of taxing and regulating would be enormous.
Aside from tax revenues, the government would also stand to benefit financially, eradicating the need for policing, prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana "criminals" in the United States. Each year there are around 700,000 arrests made for marijuana-related offenses, mostly possession for personal use. This is nearly as many as all other drug related arrests combined, around 840,000. The costs of prosecuting these often-victimless crimes is enormous.
While the government savings would be vast, the multi-billion dollar prison industry could potentially see crippling losses. No doubt the California prison guards' union, who is an especially influential player on California's political scene, will commit a considerable amount of time and money towards opposing this bill.
Whatever the outcome in November, the next few months leading up to the elections should certainly be interesting. Given the current right-wing mood in this country, it is difficult to imagine this bill will come to pass. Legal marijuana still seems a bit too progressive and liberal for the mainstream masses.
No one should be incarcerated over minor, pot-related offenses and anyone who is currently imprisoned should have his or her sentences repealed. If you want to smoke pot, you should be able to do so. This is, after all, America and smoking a joint by no means should exist outside of one's right to individual liberty.
What society does not need, however, is Philip Morris, Anheuser-Busch or Pfizer taking over the pot industry. We definitely don't need our local Wal-Mart peddling pot or a 40-foot billboard with a cowboy, camel or calendar girl advertising smooth, cool cannabis-lights on the side of our freeways.
It seems quite clear that sweeping marijuana reforms in the United States are indeed necessary. However, in order for these changes to become effective, they must be enacted on the federal level where the decriminalization of cannabis users needs to happen. The future of our personal freedoms unfortunately look hazy, and not in a good way.