Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Marijuana: An Economic Bailout? By: Matthew Baugh

The argument about the legalization of marijuana has been around for a very long time. In 1973 the debate became a legal matter when activists were granted decriminalization. The ruling was made possible because of sighted medical testing’s for various benefits. It is said to help with such serious diseases as AIDS, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis. Through this avenue, pot is very close to total legalization under a government model of taxes and regulations. This scenario has played out in the United States before, during the Great Depression with alcohol and prohibition. Now alcohol is legal nationwide and has become a great source of income for many areas of the country.
I recently read an article in Fortune Magazine, entitled How Pot Became Legal, in which an unbiased and very informative look at the issue was presented. There is a story of a man, Irvin Rosenfeld, which is living with a rare bone disease, and in turn he is a medical marijuana patient. The federal government has supplied, and will continue to supply until death, his weed. Every twenty five days, he goes to his pharmacy and is given a tin with three hundred government rolled marijuana cigarettes. Before he was granted this medicine, he had a long list of medications that ranged from codeine to Demerol and Darvon. He explained to his doctors that he had all of the benefits of his opiate medicines, but none of the side effects. With cannabis use his pains were diminished, he was even able to eat better, and his anxieties were lessened. In 1973, marijuana was decriminalized in eleven states. This meant people that were first time offenders caught with a small amount would have the charge dropped to the same level as a traffic ticket, which is a substantial reduction. In 1976 he caught wind of another man, Bob Randall, that had been ‘busted’ but won an acquittal with a medical necessity defense. Randall then filed a civil suit against the government, won, and was awarded with medical marijuana for the rest of his natural life. These two gentleman are two of the four in which the government has this deal. Some may think that our own government is trying to pollute its population, but that is not the case at all. These are extreme cases and pot is not handed out to just anyone. In California, for instance, each medical marijuana patient is given a picture ID to help regulate who receives it.
Just as in the days of the Great Depression, when alcohol was prohibited, we are in an economic crisis today. California and New Mexico are showing the rest of the country just how weed can be a cash crop. California, one of the thirteen states currently using pot for medicine, already has upward of three hundred thousand medical marijuana patients. They are also leading the way in “compassionate-care clinics” with around seven hundred. “New Mexico, however, hopes to have the first state licensed medical marijuana farm and distributorship up and running by September of 2009.” Colorado has also joined in the pioneer-ship having fifteen clinics inside its borders. In February of 2009, President Obama approved a non-action plan, which stopped the federal government raids and prosecutions of clinics and the people that supply them. I wonder if he is seeing the same dollar signs that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt saw during the 1930’s with alcohol. “Assuming a national consumer market for pot of about thirteen billion dollars annually, Harvard economist Jeffery Miron has estimated that legalization could be expected to bring state and federal governments about seven billion dollars annually in additional tax revenue, while saving them thirteen and a half billion dollars in prohibition-related law enforcement costs.” If these figures are even close to correct, the national deficit would be reversed in a mere matter of years. Though it is not immediate, it is a viable option numerically.
Some may question the addictive effects of marijuana and how that would negatively impact our communities across America. In one light that may very well be correct. If alcohol’s journey is studied closer, it is easy to see negative aspects with little effort. Things like DUI’s and alcoholism stick out more than anything. But it should be noted that most of these things are considered illegal and the persons responsible are reprimanded. As far as the addictive possibilities, there are now actual studies and much more research about the effects of THC (the major intoxicant in cannabis). It was found that marijuana is not nearly as addictive as alcohol or a lot of the current medications used for pain reduction today. In fact it was said by the Institute of Medicine, “it’s adverse effects are within the range of effects tolerated for other medications. The long-term risks to chronic users appear to center mainly on the generic dangers of smoking (repertory disease and possibly lung cancer) and upon the ’mild and short lived’ withdrawal symptoms that a minority of marijuana users experience, according to the IOM experts. They considered marijuana less addictive than tobacco, codeine, or Valium.” They are even working on a means of ingestion that will eliminate the need for smoking. There are already some forms of these ideas in the compassionate-care clinics such as; vaporizers, weed infused drinks, and a pill form that is still in the works. In 1988 Judge Francis Young ruled, “Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man.” He continued on to say, “It is almost impossible to overdose fatally on marijuana, a circumstance that distinguishes it from virtually any other drug. By any measure of rational analysis, marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.” The problem that most people that oppose the idea is the loop holes that are left in the legal system because of un-specific laws. The laws did not specify things like how much a person is allowed to have on them or where they got it from, before 2004. Senate Bill 420 was passed by the California Legislature in 2004, which regulated the amounts on a person, at home, where patients could acquire it, and made all patients carry a picture ID. Another benefit of the patients having their ID’s was not being arrested for possession.
In 2007 the government further regulated the entire process involved in medical marijuana by requiring the dispensaries to pay taxes, and even retro-taxes back to 2005. Not including federal income taxes the clinics/dispensaries pay, what their employees pay in taxes, and the payroll taxes, California is looking at two hundred twenty million dollars pumped into its economic veins. That figure is collected from the two and a half billion dollar industry that medical cannabis has become. In states like Kentucky, for example, where tobacco is already a huge ‘cash crop’ it could be a life line. With all of the federal taxes and regulations on the tobacco industry, it would be an easy transition. Because growing marijuana and growing tobacco are so very similar, it would not take long for farmers to convert. They could split their fields to half tobacco and half marijuana, but more than triple their monetary income. Therefore, it would not take a large investment to reap great economic rewards. If these concepts, and ever improving ones as well, were applied across the nation we could see a large chink put right in the armor of our next Great Depression.

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