April 01, 2010

MAMMA don't let your babies grow up to be drug dealers

In November California voters will decide whether to legalize marijuana. The proponents have cannily, cannibisly labeled the proposition the "Tax Cannabis Initiative," which plays into the state's general paranoia about its massive budget shortfalls. $20 billion in the current fiscal year and, according to the highly stressed-out State Treasurer, John Chiang, $20 billion for each of the next five years. I believe this is what is known as a "structural deficit:" it's there to stay. Taxing cannabis would raise, by some estimates, $2 billion per year. But, of course, that's just the start. A large fraction of the prison population resides in the state's jails because of pot dealing, cops and the courts have to deal with possession and sale cases, and the illegality of marijuana gives rise to "complementary" criminal problems, such as severed heads rolling down the dusty streets of Tijuana.

Currently, a slight majority of California voters favor the measure. Naturally, these preliminary numbers are almost meaningless, because the opinion-shapers have not gone to work yet on forming attitudes with an advertising blitz. That will be huge, of course, so if nothing else, the initiative will be a boon for the advertising industry. I would anticipate that some of the same pressure groups involved in the gay marriage initiative, Prop 8, will be up in arms about this one. The Mormon Church, for example, joined this time by the Mexican Mafia which controls a lot of the action (using brute force) on both sides of the border. As unlikely as it might seem, MAMMA (Mormon and Mexican Mafia Alliance) could form a potent association for the pro-pot people to overcome. The Mormons have already proved that their tax exempt status will not be touched no matter how blatant their political participation, and the Mexican Mafia has not traditionally worried too much about income taxes in the first place.

The "merits" of the issue, of course, will probably never be heard from again once the slogans start appearing on bumpers. Marijuana is illegal, I believe, because of the faulty inferential systems of human minds. It is associated with black jazz musicians and the demimonde of Bohemia, so conservative Republican types, who do not think twice about getting loaded up on double martinis, freak out when the dreaded weed is fired up. Smoking dope does not turn anyone into a black jazz musician; you have to be really cool to pull that off, and ganja won't do it. The actual facts about marijuana use have been summarized in many places, such as http://www.drugpolicy.org/marijuana/factsmyths/. Essentially, the same claims are made over and over by the uptight in an attempt to keep pot illegal, probably for the classical Puritanical motivation: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be having a good time.

The anti-pot people, not wishing to admit to the essentially irrational distinction between the commercial legality of ethanol and the criminality of marijuana, thus use many specious arguments to keep pot illegal. Such as the idea that it is a "gateway" drug tending toward use of heavier, more damaging drugs such as meth, cocaine and heroin. I am sure it is a gateway drug, in the sense that any psychoactive drug tends to lead to other ways of getting out of it. Consciousness alteration is now considered a basic human drive, like sex, thirst and Seinfeld reruns. But in that sense, so is alcohol, and alcohol comes with its own heavy load of violent crime, liver, brain and heart damage, suicide and vehicular homicide. Marijuana really cannot compete with any of those dangers. The physiology of marijuana's effects simply doesn't allow much, if any, damage to the human body. The emergency rooms are not full of people who have OD'ed on grass, nor do users die of DTs or cirrhosis. On the contrary, marijuana is an effective anti-nausea remedy, an ocular pressure-lowering drug and a good anti-anxiety medicine, particularly if you've got some good Jefferson Airplane albums on the turntable.

The Mormons have a credible argument, since they tend to the abstemious, that just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean marijuana should be, because alcohol shouldn't be either. Fair enough, perhaps, but Prohibition was tried, it failed, and the general direction these days is toward liberalization of state laws regarding the sale of booze (all part of the states' rights movement under the 21st Amendment [Repeal]). So the hypocrisy stands, and if we have to choose which to legalize and which to criminalize, it should be a no-brainer (a condition to which potheads have traditionally aspired. As Robin Williams pointed out on Letterman recently, if the initiative passes, work for comedians in California will become infinitely easier).

So that leaves the rest of MAMMA, the illegal traffickers and gangs, who really don't want to see marijuana legalized. The street price would fall dramatically, leaving plenty of room for a heavy state tax while nonetheless offering a steep drop in the per ounce cost. The game would soon be up for the gangs who control the industry because people could cultivate this easy-to-grow weed themselves, or buy what they wanted from the local head shop, as in Amsterdam. The gangs would have to move up the chain to heroin and cocaine, an already crowded industry which would not welcome their intrusion. Meanwhile, the remoter areas in California's state parks would become accessible to the general public again without nearly as much fear of being gunned down by cultivators.

So if the public looks at the issue objectively, rationally and logically, gives up certain stereotypes about marijuana use which have no relevance to modern times, and considers the fiscal advantages of a new income source (and the considerable savings from ceasing the war on this particular drug), they should vote for the initiative. And, of course, since this is America, these will not be the criteria actually deciding the issue, which is why I have absolutely no idea whether the thing will pass or not.

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