Dope And Hope

The politics of marijuana are changing.

As exhibit number one, consider Michelle Malkin, a reliably conservative political commentator. Yesterday she wrote about her visit to a marijuana shop in Colorado — not to rip the legalization movement, as you might expect, but rather to describe the positive impact marijuana use has had for her mother-in-law, who is dealing with cancer and has experienced problems with loss of appetite. By using the legal marijuana in Colorado, her mother-in-law’s food intake has improved, leading to hope that she will get stronger and weather the ravages of cancer treatment. And, as a bottom line, Malkin notes that the operators of the shops carefully run neat businesses, pay taxes, employ people, and provide goods and services that people like her mother-in-law want and need.

A number of states have changed their marijuana laws in recent years, but Colorado appears to be the focus of attention. In states like Ohio, where there doesn’t seem to be an significant movement toward either approval of medical marijuana or decriminalization on a state level, I expect that legislators are taking a hard look at the Colorado experience. Are significant additional tax revenues are being produced? Is there any appreciable effect on crime? Are people like Michelle Malkin’s mother-in-law benefiting? Is the legal sale of marijuana having any impact on tourism? The answers to those questions will tell us whether states like Ohio, which tends to be a follower rather than an innovator, may change its marijuana policies.

First Decriminalization, Then Legalization, Then Taxation?

Yesterday California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill decriminalizing the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana in California.  The new law takes effect in January.  Thereafter, possession of an ounce or less will be a simple infraction punishable by a maximum $100 fine.

Interestingly, Schwarzenegger justified his signing of the bill solely on cost grounds.  He says California will save money on prosecutors, court personnel, police officers, and publicly provided defense attorneys who otherwise would be paid to prosecute marijuana possession misdemeanor offenses.  In 2008, for example, California had 61,000 arrests on misdemeanor possession charges.

California’s decision to decriminalize small quantities of marijuana is an interim step in the process that I think is probably inevitable.  Eventually cash-strapped states will find the lure of legalizing marijuana, and then taxing its sale, to be irresistible.  California faces a massive budget deficit.  By decriminalizing the possession of marijuana, California eliminates an expense item.  By legalizing marijuana and taxing its sale, California adds money to its revenue side.  With states having justified the legalization of casino gambling on job creation and revenue grounds, can legalized marijuana be far behind?