June 22, 2009

Final Verdict on "The War On Drugs"

from The Nation:

The War Against the 'War on Drugs'

...For Betty Yee, chair of California's Board of Equalization--the office responsible for collecting sales tax in the Golden State--the changes, especially around drug-law enforcement, can't come soon enough.

Sitting at her conference table high up in one of downtown Sacramento's few sky-rises, Yee has marijuana on her mind. Specifically, she has become an outspoken advocate for legalizing pot for residents older than 21. Her friend Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a former San Francisco city councilman, is pushing just such a bill in the State Legislature. Yee wants to levy fees on business owners applying for marijuana licenses, impose an excise tax on sellers and charge buyers a sales tax. Do it properly, and the state could reap about $1.3 billion a year, she has estimated. "Marijuana is so easily available. Why not regulate it like alcohol and tobacco?" she says, and gain additional tax revenue into the bargain?

Not so many years back, any public figure who dared to advocate such reforms would have been shunned by much of the establishment. It's a measure of how much things have changed that Yee and Ammiano's proposal is being taken seriously across the board. In fact, shortly after I met with Yee, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger--whose office declined my request for an interview for this article--announced that the state should at least consider the merits of pot legalization. He wasn't advocating it, he was careful to stress, but he did think the time was ripe to debate the issue.

"The budget is so bad now, the populism of the issue is beginning to work here in the Legislature," Ammiano says as he paces back and forth in his office, toward the bookshelves with the four martini glasses and Golden Gate Bridge bookends and then away again. On the wall near the receptionist's desk hangs a huge poster from the movie Milk. "Everyone thinks it's Cheech and Chong," he says with a laugh, describing the marijuana legalization bill. "But there's a lot of policy wonks" supporting it. "There's very conservative support from the oddest sources and locations." The GOP chair in the state, as well as Tom Campbell, a Republican gubernatorial hopeful, have indicated their support for his bill, Ammiano declares. "When it starts to cost more money than it's worth even in the eyes of the pooh-bahs, then you can accomplish something..."

The War Against the 'War on Drugs'

Posted at June 22, 2009 6:54 PM

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