Editorial: Cannabis bill a blunt look at legalization

By Pitt News Staff

The politics of marijuana are in many ways still stuck in the last generation, with starry-eyed… The politics of marijuana are in many ways still stuck in the last generation, with starry-eyed free-love types advocating personal freedom and responsibility while the hard-nosed federal government testifies against a culture of ‘Reefer Madness’-style addiction and depravity. Even while much of the medical community, including the American Medical Association and American Psychiatric Association, has endorsed the use of medical cannabis, recreational use remains strictly prohibited under federal law and with few vocal proponents other than the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and High Times magazine. But California Assembly Bill 390 is attempting to change all that. The bill, also known as the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act, would be a huge step for the full legalization of cannabis in the United States. It would fully legalize the growing, distribution and consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes in California. For practical purposes, California would treat the substance almost identically to alcoholic beverages. There’s an economic side, as well. Tom Ammiano, who sponsored the bill, estimates that with a $50 tax on every ounce of marijuana grown and sold, the law would bring in more than $1.2 billion annually to California’s economy, a significant figure given the state’s recent budget woes. People who want to grow marijuana commercially would pay a $5,000 license fee, and up to $2,500 per year after that to renew the license. Any person over the age of 21 could buy cannabis from these licensed growers, The major problem with this bill is that it would still be illegal to do any of the aforementioned things under federal law. Under the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, federal law supersedes any conflicting state or local law, meaning that federal agents could still make arrests for activities that were no longer illegal under California law. Bills like this also raise questions about the regulation and commercialization of substances like marijuana. Even though the law purports to treat the sale and taxation of marijuana similarly to alcohol, alcoholic beverages are most often produced by large corporations. In contrast, the California bill is allowing anyone with $5,000 and a supply of seeds to start their own selling business, which could have a huge effect on the type of product sold to consumers. To put it in terms of the bill’s comparison to alcohol, it would be as though everything sold in liquor stores and beer distributors could have been made in someone’s backyard distillery. While some homemade beer is delicious, others … well, they simply aren’t. California’s bill might or might not pass, but either way it raises many interesting questions about the legalization of marijuana and the commercial and regulatory issues that such a move would create. There is little doubt that eventually legalization will happen in some capacity, just as medical marijuana use has a small but growing hold in the country today. The only thing left to determine is how the government ‘mdash; and the marketplace ‘mdash; will regulate its sale.