Color me a bit disappointed. I expected grand arguments about the nature of freedom, the petty differences on intoxication, and the social costs of both prohibition and excess license to result in a fascinating debate. At the end, though, all we seem to get is a series of slogans getting tossed by both sides of the Proposition 19 question on whether to legalize marijuana. In this Reason TV presentation that gives equal time to both sides, the rapidly-diminishing time to the election seems to have also taken the intellectual heft out of the debate:

There are good arguments for ending the waste of taxpayer dollars on a futile attempt to ban a weed that can grow almost anywhere — and does in California especially — but balancing the state budget isn’t one of them.  At best, tax receipts on marijuana might come to a few hundred million dollars a year.  California has a $26 billion hole in its annual budget.  Marijuana isn’t the cause of the budget deficit, either, and anyone who thinks that has been smoking the product a little ahead of time.  The budget deficit comes from massive overspending and regulation far beyond the relative pittance spent on marijuana prohibition in California, especially these days.

As one Prop 19 opponent notes in the video, the idea that marijuana taxation will create a windfall for California is a pipe dream, pun definitely intended.  In the first place, it will require an additional bureaucracy to manage taxation and control of marijuana, although the cost probably won’t be as high as the argument in this video.  But that won’t matter much anyway, because under the proposed law, people will just grow their own pot.  It’s not a difficult plant to cultivate, and much less expensive than buying it in the medicinal stores now operating in the state, once government gets off people’s backs.

The arguments against it don’t exactly rise to a convincing level, either.  The most effective opponent in the video is the chief of the Covina PD, who notes that getting impaired drivers off the road isn’t as easy with marijuana as it is with alcohol.  However, that ignores the fact that the police have been finding impaired drivers stoned on pot for decades by observing the impairment, just as they do with drunk drivers.  DUI laws can be modified to allow for convictions based on the observed impairment, if they don’t already allow for that, as I believe they do in many jurisdictions.

California voters should ask themselves this: is the prohibition in place for the last 70 or so years succeeding?  Does the level of success in the prohibition of marijuana make up for the public cost of imposing that prohibition, which not only includes the dollar costs but also the erosion of civil liberties in the form of no-knock raids, property seizures, and the like?  Does this prohibition make sense in the context of the legal status of alcoholic beverages, which are more toxic and create at least the same kinds of public disturbances associated with marijuana?  That’s the debate that matters.

Tags: California