State legislator Tom Ammiano’s proposed bill to legalize marijuana in California would save both money and lives: billions of dollars in enforcement costs and thousands of families affected by imprisonment, drugs and police violence.
The Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act, if passed, would give the state power to regulate marijuana much like it does alcohol. Under current law, any possession of pot is considered a crime, contributing to the overcrowding of our prisons. Incarceration has not proved effective in detering marijuana use, either, as many consider its use “recreational.” And as Ammiano himself said in an interview with Salon.com, “People do it everywhere.”
Plus, money spent prosecuting marijuana possession could be spent on healthcare, drug treatment and education for the disadvantaged communities often disproportionately affected by drug enforcement policies.
Eliminating penalties for small-time possession and selling would also save people the financial burden of court appearances and time in jail and the lifelong economic consequences of legal conviction. By lowering the stakes of possessing and selling marijuana-and its profitability as a black market item-the state can potentially reduce the violence plaguing poor communities, where often the only opportunity for young males to make money is drug dealing.
In addition, the raging drug war in México is spilling over onto American soil because of our demand for the drugs. Drug traffickers make so much money smuggling marijuana and other substances into the United States that they brazenly murder anyone serving President Felipe Calderón’s orders to wipe out drug trafficking in the country. Six thousand people were killed last year in such violence alone, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
But legalization and state taxation of marijuana will truly benefit everyone in the state, not just those involved in the corrections systems. Ammiano, a San Francisco congressman, estimates the legislation would pump $1.3 billion into California’s economy, an important source of revenue as the state faces a $42 billion deficit.The money generated could ideally pay for social programs that actually work to steer citizens to academic, professional and personal success and well-being and away from drugs and crime.
In short, California’s current policy of drug raids and imprisonment is ineffective at curbing the use of marijuana. Regulating its consumption to the benefit of our state’s safety and financial security is a fresh idea worth considering.