- Posted August 14, 2009 by
Los Angeles, California
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Time to legalize pot?
420 bail out in California, how legalizing marijuana could help close the budget gap
California is facing a financial Armageddon with a current debt of $31,032,071,291. The state government is trying to combat it by cutting government programs, public works projects, education programs, health and human services programs, state park funding, and increased taxes. Meanwhile people keep losing jobs and houses all over the state. We are headed for some serious problems in the golden state. (View CA's 2009 State Budget)
What if I told you there is a bill floating around the California State Assembly that could possibly generate $1.4 Billion in tax revenue a year and add thousands of green jobs. Sounds pretty good right? Now what if I told you this bill involves legalizing marijuana? Don't close your browser yet, let's think it through.
Marijuana has not always been known as a class one dangerous narcotic. In fact at one time the plant was the third largest agricultural crop grown in North America, even some of our founding fathers were advocates. George Washington cultivated and smoked medical-grade marijuana on his farm. Some believe he smoked the plant to ease his chronic tooth pain. Thomas Jefferson too cultivated and smoked the plant, even drafting our Declaration of Independence on paper made from hemp fibers. Benjamin Franklin cultivated the industrial form of the plant and started the first American paper mill, making paper exclusively from hemp. For fun, check out the list of American VIP's who used the green plant for one reason or another.
The high times came to an end in the late 1930's when DuPont filed a patent for nylon, plastics, and a new bleaching process for paper. DuPont's chief financial backer, who was also Secretary of Treasury under the Hoover Administration, feared that hemp may be used to make paper and plastic cutting into the companies revenue. He combated his fears by electing his nephew-in-law to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. In 1937 the federal government passed the Marijuana Transfer Tax Bill prohibiting industrial and medical use of marijuana, classified the buds as narcotic, and prohibited the cultivation and farming of the plant. Marijuana was classified as an illegal narcotic on the same level as heroin, cocaine, LSD and morphine. (History of Marijuana in the US)
Nearly 72 years later, it may make sense to challenge this bill and make marijuana legal in the United States again. Legalizing the plant in California has the potential to bring $1.4 billion into our economy, create opportunities for farmers (hemp is environmentally friendly and requires few pesticides and no herbicides), and create new factory jobs using the plant to make paper, textiles, biodegradable plastics, health food and fuel.
Creating new opportunities for farmers and generating thousands of green jobs
"Make the most of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere." - George Washington
Marijuana's less potent cousin hemp, is a fast growing, hardy plant that can be used to produce textiles, paper, construction materials, car parts, food and body care products. Hemp is an environmentally friendly crop to harvest, requiring no pesticides and its roots detoxifies the soil, making it an ideal rotation crop. Hemp is also fast growing reaching maturity approximately 100 days after sowing and can withstand light frosts. For California farmers, this means the possibility for two crops to be grown and harvested in a single season. That's a lot of hemp! According to a 1938 Popular Mechanics article there are over 25,000 uses for hemp. Benjamin Franklin had the right idea when he started his paper mill using hemp paper. Making paper from trees is pretty ridiculous when you think about it. Trees can take 10 – 20 years to grow vs hemp taking only 100 days to grow. Hemp makes stronger paper which can out last wood paper by centuries (good thing the Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper!). Hemp does not require bleaching like wood paper does, therefor it does not poison water supplies like paper mills do. One acre of hemp can produce as much product as 10 acres of trees over a 20 year cycle. Hemphasis.net You get the point. Hemp would put farmers back in business giving them a hardy crop to rotate year round, yet the government prohibits the cultivation and harvesting of the crop. Imagine how many jobs could be created if we took advantage of the versatile hemp plant. An entirely new production industry would rise giving competition to the plastics, textiles and paper industries. Isn't competition amongst industries good for the consumer? Doesn't it make industries strive for better, more efficient ways of doing things? I think this is a win-win-win-win for the farmer, jobless, consumer and environment.
Mexican drug cartels, not going away
California leads the country in the deadly business of marijuana trafficking. Authorities confiscated more than 5.3 million plants statewide in 2008. Just last week in Fresno authorities uprooted 314,000 marijuana plants valued at $1.26 billion and the operation isn't done yet. (CNN) Mexican drug cartel operations are using our state forests to cultivate marijuana at the cost of our environment and public safety. These pot farms are heavily guarded with armed men protecting billions of dollars (yes billions) worth of marijuana. Imagine you are out camping with your family and accidently come across one of these farms. Not good memories for you. The problem is only getting worse for California, the drug cartels are becoming more violent and sophisticated finding ways to grow the crops undetected in our national forests. (NY Times) California Forest Service law enforcement staff was doubled from 14 to 28 agents in California between 2007 and 2008. Our state parks have deflated their budgets spending their limited resources fighting drug cartels instead of building programs to educate our children and up keep the park. I've heard many pro-pot activists using the arguments that legalizing marijuana will put Mexican drug cartels out of business, it will not. I implore you to drop that argument as it does not take the underhandedness of the Mexican drug cartels into consideration. The argument only gives your opponents more fire to fight with. Legalizing marijuana will not put the Mexican drug cartels out of business. Drug cartels are sophisticated, powerful machines, and won't stop trafficking because we legalize marijuana. Should California legalize and tax pot, the cartel will no doubt undersell legal suppliers and increase the THC percentage making their pot more valuable than our regulated legal fare. Legalizing pot will however encourage pot enthusiasts, already purchasing their pot from the medical dispensaries, to purchase their pot legally. It would be all around safer for them to do so and they would not run the risk of being fined or thrown in jail. How do I know this? I'll introduce you to the Oaksterdam model in a second. There will always be users purchasing their pot on the streets because it's cheaper and stronger. The Mexican drug cartel will still have a strong market in the United States and they will continue to harvest illegally. If this bill is put on the ballot for 2010/2012 I would want to see a portion of state profits from the bill going to law enforcement agencies to combat the Mexican Drug Cartel. You will get my vote if I'm assured we can fight fire with fire.
Oaksterdam, selling Mary Jane since 1996!
There is a district on the north end of downtown Oakland, CA where the air smells a little sweeter, and the cookies sold at the cafe may make you a little happier. This district is known as Oaksterdam. The district formed on July 4, 1996 when Jeff Jones opened the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Coop aimed at distributing medical marijuana. Soon after other clubs began to open and the district was dubbed Oaksterdam. When the federal government prohibited the OCBC to distribute cannabis they began issuing medical cannabis ID cards and operating a hemp store. In November of 2004, Oakland voters passed Measure Z, making the private sales, cultivation, and possession of cannabis the lowest police priority and mandating that the City of Oakland tax and regulate cannabis under state law. The four Oaksterdam medical marijuana dispensaries generated an estimated $20 million annually in sales and were charged at the general tax rate of 1.2% or $1.20 per $1000 gross receipts, which generated $240,000 in tax. (alternet.org) In July 2009 Oakland passed a new measure that will charge a tax of 1.8% on marijuana sold within the city limits. Based on annual sales of $20 million for the four dispensaries, it will generate an estimated $360,000 for city coffers in its first year. We are talking about four businesses generating $360,000 dollars in city taxes. Imagine this model going state wide, then mix in the other benefits, such as the jobs created for people who work at these dispensaries and we could see a real economic stimulus happen. The Oaksterdam model is working, the community is supporting it and more and more people are purchasing their marijuana at the dispensaries rather than on the street. The new 1.8% tax rate officially takes place on New Years day 2010. Oaksterdam is the district we should be keeping an eye on to see if this could work state or even nation wide.
I applaud and encourage the creative thinking behind the Oaksterdam model and would love to see more of it. Also noted, I do not smoke pot but I have absolutely no problem with pot enthusiasts. I'm not a doctor so I don't want to get into the health debate and my opinion on our “war on drugs” would compete in length with the current H.R. 3400 health bill running through congress. However, several people I know enjoy the occasional joint and they are all active and contributing citizens. It's interesting that our legalized drugs; alcohol, prescriptions, cigarettes etc. have caused far more medical problems, deaths and personal turmoil than marijuana ever will. Stoned people don't drive 95 miles per hour down a residential street, they drive 5 miles per hour down the street with a big grin on their face and cheeto droppings on their shirt. When FDR was challenged by a bad economy he lifted the alcohol prohibition as one of many ways to stimulate the economy back then. With that came strict regulations on the manufacturing, distribution, purchase and consumption of alcohol. The same would obviously need to happen with marijuana.
I strongly believe and support the research and distribution of medical marijuana as I have seen first hand the medicinal benefits the plant had on a friend going through cancer. California could use an extra $1.4 billion and I'm sure the tens of thousands of jobless Californians would love to see some new opportunities open up.
Would you support a bill legalizing and regulating the sale, cultivation and possession of marijuana in California and/or nationally?
Let me know your arguments for and against the idea.
Photo: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski