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I’m Not a Pothead, I’m a Marijuana Consumer April 15, 2010

Posted by Amir Roth in Uncategorized.

This blog is fast becoming a dumping ground for my reactions to stories I hear on NPR on the way to and fro work. I wrote fro on purpose there, in case you were wondering. Anyway, Tuesday’s Radio Times featured Philly DA Seth Williams and Chris Goldstein (let me guess, Jewish dad, Christian mom) of PhillyNORML about a move in Philadelphia to … well … not exactly de-criminalize marijuana, but at the very least to de-penalize it. The proposal is to downgrade possession of fewer than 30 grams of tea from a misdemeanor to a summary offense, reducing the penalty from a $500 fine and up to a month in the can to a citation, no time, a possible fine, and no permanent mark on one’s criminal record. Doing this will reduce arrests in Phillly by 4,000 a year or about 10% and save Philly about 3 million dollars. The city could use this money, e.g., reopen some public swimming pools in time for summer—not the one that kicked out a school-group of black kids, that club was private and outside of Philly, and I know they wish everyone forgot about that story, but I haven’t—and maybe a library or two.

Wow! Is Pennsylvania on its way to joining those other other enlightened states like California, Massachusetts, and New York which have de-criminalized possession to various degrees? Will Pennsylvania be the tipping point that moves the Federal government to scale back its “War on Drugs” to a “War on Narcotics” and moves Mary Jane from its current status of a “gray economy” to the mainstream? I heard (or read) a few weeks ago that once 15 states adopt some measure, Washington usually makes it federal policy if only to prevent chaos due to differences in state policies. We are already a little bit past 15 states, but Pennsylvania would add to the smaller list of “big states that matter!” Ha! I’m sorry, Montana, you matter. Without you, we wouldn’t have a city called Butte. Or Larry Craig. I digress.

As this is my second post in two months about legalizing chronic, you may be wondering whether I have a personal stake here. Well, I won’t deny that I have smoked and inhaled. But I also won’t deny that the last time was sixteen years ago. I don’t bang on this issue because I want to legitimize my own consumerism. Thankfully, I don’t have a medical condition that broccoli would alleviate. And I hardly drink much less get high. To me, as it is to the district attorney, this is an economic efficiency issue. Spending tax dollars punishing an activity which may not be ideal, but which is non-violent, or at least not directly, is a not a good use of resources. Even worse, keeping weed underground is ignoring a potentially enormous tax base. If I told you how big the US ganja economy is, you would fall off the chair. It’s $35bn a year. 90% of which is grown in the US. $35bn. $35,000,000,000. I saw a talk a few weeks ago where the speaker wrote out large numbers because he said that people ingested them better that way. So again, $35,000,000,000. Corn and wheat combined are only $23,000,000,000. $35,000,000,000 is roughly the annual revenue of Intel. There is as much money in reefer as there is in Core i7 and Atom combined!

For the third, and certainly not last time, I am pro vice taxes. If there is an activity that we as a society want to discourage, be it smoking, toking, drinking, driving or all four at the same time, the solution is not to outlaw it—well, doing either of the middle two either concurrently or sequentially but in close temporal proximity to the fourth should be outlawed—but rather to tax the hell out of it. This reduces crime, eliminates black markets and bootlegging, and raises money for the government. In Pennsylvania, liquor is sold through state controlled stores. Those same stores could sell grass as well. With a $10 per gram tax—roughly 100% at current prices—five for the state and five for BO. You don’t think BO could find a good use for $17,500,000,000 a year? At the very least, it would buy three more weeks in Iraq.

As far as science can tell, the effects of ganja are roughly on level with those of alcohol. Alcohol is restricted from minors, but is otherwise an above-the-table part of the general economy. Why shouldn’t weed be the same?

P.S. I thought the funniest part of the show was Goldstein constantly referring to potheads as “Marijuana consumers.” Evidently, this is part of a national campaign to de-stigmatize Afghan-nation, to scrub their public image and improve their community standing. I laughed every time I heard it. Burnouts want to be called Marijuana consumers. Child molesters want to be called Catholic priests. Cockroaches want to be called Cowboys fans. Who’s next?

P.P.S. Think I wrote this post in part so that I can use every name for giggleweed that I can think of? You bet your dime bag I did.



1. cyberanna - April 16, 2010

Since I don’t have particularly strong feelings about the use of MJ, I support this move for many of the reasons you listed. But for those out there that *do* think it should be criminalized, isn’t it a little weird that they could change their tune over a financial argument? Will every crime begin to have its legalizing price?

Hasn’t that already begun? Should OJ Simpson have made out a big check to the government instead of his defense attorney?

Is there always a nice violent/non-violent demarcation line?

p.s. “doing either of the middle two either concurrently or sequentially but in close temporal proximity to the fourth should be outlawed”. lol.

Amir Roth - April 16, 2010

I guess I wasn’t specific enough when I said non-violent. It’s not just that toking on its own is non-violent, it’s that decoupled from operating a motor vehicle (and thereby endangering others) it’s essentially victim-less, unless you consider society at large to be the victim when any potential medical bills come due later (the tax will defray that). As for society being the victim in the form of future loss of GDP, well the perp has much more personal stake in that than society at large, and so no special disincentive is needed there. On these grounds, all illicit drugs, including narcotics should eventually be legalized and brought above ground (of course with incredible tax rates). And they may be. Pot certainly has to lead the way.

As for other non-violent, i.e., white-collar, victim-ful crimes? If the perpetrator has sufficient funds to compensate the victims and pay punitive damages, then maybe jail time is unwarranted. Again, from a purely economic efficiency standpoint, what’s the downside? Yes, it’s distasteful in that rich people would be able to “get away” with more things than people with lesser means, but that is already the case.

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