Drug Policy

California Assembly Committee Considers Life After Marijuana Legalization

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On Wednesday the California Assembly's Public Safety Committee heard testimony on a marijuana legalization bill introduced by its chairman, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). According to the Drug War Chronicle, "The hearing marked the first time legalization has been discussed in the legislature since California banned marijuana in 1913." Judging from summaries of the testimony in various news accounts, prohibitionists needed more time to prepare their arguments.

The two most credible arguments raised by opponents of legalization were that increased marijuana consumption would impair productivity and contribute to traffic accidents. Both concerns can be countered by a comparison with alcohol, which affects job performance at least as much as pot does and has a more dramatic effect on driving ability. Those hazards suggest rules for consumption (don't drink on the job and don't drive when you're drunk), but neither is thought to justify prohibition.

What would be the practical impact of abandoning this arbitrary distinction between alcohol and marijuana? If there are many confirmed teetotalers who become regular pot smokers after marijuana is legalized, or if there are many drinkers who continue consuming the same amount of alcohol and start smoking pot too, there might be a net decline in job performance or a net increase in traffic accidents, assuming that a substantial portion of each group behaves irresponsibly. But since most people do not have an infinite taste for intoxication, it seems likely that any increase in marijuana consumption would be accompanied by a decrease in drinking. Because alcohol impairs drivers substantially more than marijuana does, this substitution effect could yield a net improvement in public safety.

As for the less credible arguments against legalizing marijuana, I was struck by this one

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department's Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California's major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There's no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

The point is not the "the cartels" would suddenly start behaving like good corporate citizens but that they would be driven out of this particular business by open, legal competition. Their skills of subterfuge and violence would no longer be worth anything, and legitimate businesses would take their place. No doubt bootleggers would have loved to continue making money by smuggling booze even after the 21st Amendment took effect, but they couldn't (although some of them did become nonviolent, law-abiding participants in the newly legal alcohol industry).

As a RAND Corporation analyst pointed out at the hearing, a black market in marijuana might persist if the legal product were heavily taxed. But that's an argument against high taxes, not against legalization. Several witnesses also noted that marijuana would still be prohibited under federal law, meaning that producers and sellers would still be vulnerable to arrest and prosecution. But that is exactly the scenario that needs to play out if we are going to see any serious progress in ending the war on the drugs. Will the federal government go to war with a state that legalizes the cultivation and sale of marijuana within its borders, or will it find a way to live with a diversity of state policies in this area (as the Constitution requires)? The Obama administration's move toward a less aggressive posture vis-a-vis medical marijuana, assuming it is genuine, could point the way to a federalist experiment that resolves some of the questions raised by opponents of legalization.

Addendum: Speaking of lame arguments, Bruce Mirken at the Marijuana Policy Project points out this TV spot from Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth, titled "Seriously?" It presents a series of fictional potheads offering dumb reasons for legalization. The difference is that the prohibitionist counterparts to these clueless clowns not only exist but are testifying before the California legislature.

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62 responses to “California Assembly Committee Considers Life After Marijuana Legalization

  1. Will the federal government go to war with a state that legalizes the cultivation and sale of marijuana within its borders, or will it find a way to live with a diversity of state policies in this area (as the Constitution requires)?

    I think we all know the answer to this one, Jacob. I’ll give you a hint:the feds have never shirked from declaring war on citizens before now. Why would they change?

    1. Actually… The Obama administration has ordered federal agencies not to intervene with medical marijuana, which is against federal law but permitted by the states.

      There’s no reason to think this would be any different.

  2. Would marijuana legalization in CA result in hemp legalization as well?

    1. That is the major argument for legalization that I am putting forth in letters to my reps. If you can grow marijuana there is no reason to prohibit hemp. The market and job creation potential for hemp is huge. It will probably have a greater impact to the state economy than all the revenues from marijuana taxation. I mean c’mon, paper, fabric, biofuel, and food.

  3. This new nullification movement is long, long overdue.

  4. If there is an increase in traffic accidents, there will be a decrease in damages per accident as the stoned drivers will be doing an average of 12 mph.

    1. The most dangerous thing I’ve done while driving stoned was to wait for a stop sign to turn green.

  5. If CA legalizes I can see other states following in its footsteps. Oregon for sure.

    1. The states that ought to be behind legalization wholesale (the tobacco growing states) would probably let social conservative concerns override the lucrative windfall for the first states to legalize and get the feds to back off.

      I say the first states, since once legalization takes hold in enough states, the prices will tumble and it will become a cheap commodity crop without the huge risk premium currently driving up prices.

      1. First of all, there will probably be an informal price floor for kind bud and other premium weed, which will work out in favor of former gangbanging highschool dropouts who will beg, borrow, and steal their way to a moneymaking growroom to call their own, forming the foundation of a new ghetto economy.

        So I don’t see the bottom falling out of the market, nor would any lowering of prices be bad for anyone, least of all the taxman, who will likely get 90% of all sales no matter what like they do cigarettes. Crime rates will fall and tax revenues will go up in the first, second, and last states to legalize.

    2. The states that ought to be behind legalization wholesale (the tobacco growing states) would probably let social conservative concerns override the lucrative windfall for the first states to legalize and get the feds to back off.

      I say the first states, since once legalization takes hold in enough states, the prices will tumble and it will become a cheap commodity crop without the huge risk premium currently driving up prices.

  6. Weed is a right!

  7. “Impair productivity”? When did it become the gub’mint’s job to ensure worker productivity? Maybe they should focus on ensuring the productivity of our “public servants”.

    1. “Impair productivity”? When did it become the gub’mint’s job to ensure worker productivity?

      It isn’t but they will use the omnipotent, omnipresent all encompassing Commerce Clause.

    2. Legalization would vastly INCREASE productivity — for pot growers.

      Way cheaper to use sunlight and open markets than electric-powered lights and black market dealers.

    3. Are you SURE you want to increase the productivity of “public servants”?

      If they’re playing solitaire on their computers, they ain’t bothering me.

  8. Because alcohol impairs drivers substantially more than marijuana does, this substitution effect could yield a net improvement in public safety.

    I believe there is some evidence that suggests an increased crackdown on marijuana, and hence somewhat reduced availability is correlated with an increase in traffic fatalities.

    Sorry, I don’t have a link but I think I read it in “Marijuana Myths Marijuana Facts”.

  9. Speaking of lame arguments, Bruce Mirken at the Marijuana Policy Project points out this TV spot from Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth, titled “Seriously?” It presents a series of fictional potheads offering dumb reasons for legalization. The difference is that the prohibitionist counterparts to these clueless clowns not only exist but are testifying before the California legislature.

    A pro-legalization group should do a commercial called “Like, really seriously, dude?” and show a bunch of prohibitionists lying, giving bogus stats, and generally being the assholes they are. The great thing is they wouldn’t even need actors because the prohibitionists don’t need to be caricatured; they’re already that ridiculous.

    1. How can the MPP be taken seriously if they hire a guy named Bruce Mirken?

      1. Haha, I never thought of it that way, but Bruce actually seems like a cool guy. I generally like his blog posts, and his tv appearances as well.

      2. Better than “Muffley”.

    2. t is from a story Bruce posted “The Prohibitionist Argument in Under a Minute”

      This video is being distributed by a group opposing legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in California. Seriously. this spot in an ANTI-MARIJUANA PSA
      brought to you by CADFY(Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth or CADFY)
      NOT THE MPP !!!

  10. “Impair productivity”? When did it become the gub’mint’s job to ensure worker productivity?

    Impaired productivity has it’s own punishment in a capitalist system in the form of reduced pay raises over time.

    1. But we are talking about California.

  11. Is there a simple, reasonably accurate, test to see if someone is under the influence of marijuana? Along the lines of a breathalyzer? (Yes, yes, reasonable questions about the accuracy of breathalyzers exist, etc. let’s put that aside for the moment.) Because if there isn’t it sounds like one reasonable (although minor) objection to legalization.

    Also a good business opportunity.

    1. Impairment should be tested with a test that tests for impairment, not what chemicals are in your body.

      1. Impairment should be tested with a test that tests for impairment, not what chemicals are in your body.

        Absolutely. If you’re impaired, you’ll be impaired. Pretty simple.

    2. A filmed roadside sobriety test of someone way too stoned to be behind the wheel seems like an adequate approach.

    3. Hey, why not sell legalization to the states as “think of all the impaired driving fines revenue you’ll generate!” They’d love it!

    4. umm, bloodshot eyes while calling the cop ‘dude’ the whole time.

      1. What if they’re a surfer with allergies?

        See, stereotypes are harmful.

        1. pfft whatever, every surfer I know smokes pot almost constantly.

    5. There is one in the pipeline from Philips: http://www.technologyreview.co…..?nlid=2244

  12. But since most people do not have an infinite taste for intoxication, it seems likely that any increase in marijuana consumption would be accompanied by a decrease in drinking.

    The effect of legalization would be lower prices for dope, which would lead to higher consumption over and above the increase caused by people smoking it who currently don’t because they don’t want to run afoul of the law.

    While there would likely be a slight decrease in alcohol consumption due to this substitution effect, the result of cheaper prices for drugs would almost certainly be a higher overall consumption of drugs.

    NTTAWWT — but let’s not advance obviously bullshit explanations for legalization when the best argument is INOTGFB (It’s None Of The Government’s Fucking Business), which is also the ideal policy replacement for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

  13. it is from a story Bruce posted “The Prohibitionist Argument in Under a Minute”

    This video is being distributed by a group opposing legislation to tax and regulate marijuana in California. Seriously. this spot in an ANTI-MARIJUANA PSA
    brought to you by CADFY(Community Alliances for Drug Free Youth or CADFY, is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization working in collaboration with individuals, agencies and organizations to bring parents, youth, schools and communities together to build and promote safe and healthy environments.)…… not the MPP

  14. who currently don’t because they don’t want to run afoul of the law.

    So a few high school students. Maybe.

    1. Nah, plenty of adults in that boat. I know a chronic alcoholic who refused to toke because he didn’t want to lose his job over random drug testing.

      And there’s adults who would toke from time to time if it was legal, but just don’t feel like winding up behind bars, and/or who don’t know anyone who is open enough about their use that they could get a contact to buy from some.

      1. I know a chronic alcoholic who refused to toke because he didn’t want to lose his job over random drug testing.

        That has a lot more to do with workplace policy than the legal consequences of cannabis use.

    2. I’m not in California, but am certainly in this group. I enjoy a good bong hit much more than alcohol and am curious if it would give me some relief from chronic pain. I don’t get near the stuff because I don’t want the possible hassle of getting busted.

      1. Not to mention if you don’t already have a good hookup, who wants to deal with some shady cab service or other provider.

    3. when i was young, my mom told me that she didn’t want me to smoke pot not because she thought it was dangerous, but because of the legal trouble that i could get into. I bet she would toke occasionally if it were legal.

  15. And, pulling out yet another woolly chestnut, Standish resorted to the old and discredited “gateway theory” that marijuana use is a stepping stone to hard drug use. “Marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “Every incident in 30 years of law enforcement I have been in where marijuana has been involved has not been good. Both marijuana and methamphetamine are equally critical problems,” he said.

    Meth and pot equally critical problems, are you fucking kidding me?

    1. Every incident in 30 years of law enforcement I have been in where marijuana has been involved has not been good.
      aren’t all law enforcement incidents “not good”?

      /

  16. A couple points:

    – Of course the number of users will skyrocket when MJ is legalized – on paper. IMHO, they’ve been underestimating the number of current users for years. When the penalties go away, along with(possibly) the stigma, expect people to respond more truthfully to surveys. No doubt they’ll use this to try to rationalize another ban.

    – As it was said above, workplace rules are independent of the legal status. Expect more and more employers/insurance agencies to prohibit MJ consumption.

    – There is indeed a floor for prices when it comes to domestically grown indoor MJ. Outdoor is much cheaper but is much less likely to be grown without pesticides. Outdoor you might be able to get 2 crops a year – maybe widening the harvest time with creative light-blocking techniques. But for medical-grade MJ, I expect it will always be grown indoors. I’ve been expecting dispensary prices to plummet for some time now but they’ve held up quite well.

    Manicuring MJ is a rather labor intensive process. There are machines now that make it go faster but I haven’t seen the output so I can’t say if they’ll reduce labor demands.

    1. I would think the floor would get lower as competition, supply, and innovation in growing take place in a legal market. The dispensaries in California aren’t enough of a legal market to have the impact that a Monsanto or Philip Morris growing operation could have with a national customer base.

    2. Of course the number of users will skyrocket when MJ is legalized – on paper. IMHO, they’ve been underestimating the number of current users for years.

      You mean sending somebody around to ask about your illegal habits doesn’t lead to truthful information? Who would have thought?

    3. I’m guessing the outdoor production would actually be greenhouse production which would limit the need for pesticides and increase the ability to control light (and even supplement) compared to field growth. It would be a lot like the majority of flower (as in florist) cultivation in California. I will grant you the labor intensive issue.

      I think that there might be a lot of people growing in their backyards, but then again you can find easily grown basil in the supermarket.

    4. Cannabis is a weed. It’s very simple to grow your own which is what I believe a lot of people would do. If it is legalized get into the high quality seed or seedling business. That’s where the money will be.

  17. The TV spot was pretty funny, but too dry. They actually wanted the characters to seem like real-life people. They should have had some shriveled rasta king babbling, “If we legalize weed we’ll be able to have legal hemp farms to grow hemp for pants and shit like Thomas Washington and all them founding motherfuckers.”

    Everybody talks about going big, but hardly anbody actually goes big.

  18. it seems likely that any increase in marijuana consumption would be accompanied by a decrease in drinking

    HA!

    1. I have a friend who smokes almost every day. He comes from a family where there are chronic (NPI) drinking problems, and swears that if it wasn’t for pot, he’d be an alcoholic.

      1. Yeah I know an alcoholic in remission who says that smoking pot is the only “release valve” that keeps him from going back to booze.

        Tricking himself? Maybe. But the guy hasn’t had a drink in close to a decade, so who knows.

  19. Hey, Ammiano! Fuck you!

  20. Jacob Sullum, wonderful put. Cheers.

  21. Mr. Sullum, are you are anyone with your considerable knowledge of the issues planning to testify before the Legislature? Tom Ammiano is a very nice guy and I’m sure he’d love to have the support of people who can use facts and logic to strip the prohibitionists of their hysterical sheen. Hell, I’ll even tell you where he likes to have lunch so the two of you can smoke a joint together in the men’s room.

  22. Remember kids, Creator made man, man made religion and religion made the drug war, so don’t blame Creator because of man’s religious mandates, which is of course and always has been to legislate morality.

  23. It seems a bit up surd that smoking a little “wacky tabacky” from a glass pipe is illegal. In America the self proclaimed, “land of the free” one would think we would by now be past monitoring the minor indisgressions and leisure activities of its citizens. Compared to the legal excess of Wall Street what’s wrong with a smoking pipe?
    Sunflowerpipes.com

  24. The problem with the cartel theory, is that they wont leave california just bc the local economy wont support their crop. Other states will and they will continue to grow in the parks.

    Find Smoke Shops

  25. Tax it, regulate it, and enjoy it :)!

    roor bongs

  26. This article neglects one thing. People who take marijuana are highly unlikely to take alcohol. Alcohol reduces the effect of marijuana. People who really enjoy marijuana would never take the two together.

    If prohibitionists want a good argument they should talk about the link between marijuana and mental disease like bipolar or schizophrenia. This is a real danger of marijuana.

    That said I don’t think marijuana should be banned. I do however think that marijuana users should be educated about marijuana’s potential harmful effects and how to avoid the effects e.g. buy marijuana with higher levels of cannabidiol which a naturally occurring anti-psychotic.

    I also think that it going to be very important to conduct more research on the health effects of marijuana. Once its fully legalized it should be much easier to do this.

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