Taxing Cannabis

Enough signatures having been gathered for The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, Californians will have the chance to vote on legalizing marijuana next November. The measure, known popularly as the “Tax Cannabis Act,” would decriminalize the plant and its psychoactive uses statewide, leaving it to the state’s counties and cities to tax and regulate . . . or continue to prohibit. (If passed it would also severely test the two weakest Amendments to the United States’ Constitution, the Ninth and Tenth.)

Though this could be a major step forward against the barbaric war on drug use, may I express some sadness at the measure’s title, and the way some folks argue for it? “Legalize it so we can tax it!” What a depressing mantra. This binding of freedom to eternal victimhood by the state irks me. It’s the giving of a base reason to do a noble thing.

Of course, nobility of thought is the last thing on most people’s minds. America still has that pietist streak, too ready to go beyond the condemnation of others for their outré pleasures and dangerous vices . . . to outright prohibition. Though a majority of people have used illegal drugs (in particular that purportedly pleasant weed, cannabis), a huge chunk of that majority lacks the courage of its own opinions and remains ashamed in the face of the often unreasoning disapproval of the minority. This is how bad law remains: Lack of courage and smarts by those who know better.

It is tempting to say that this is understandable, given that users of cannabis are a little brain-addled, hardly up to the intellectual task of mounting a good case for the right to self-medicate. But this would be unfair. It is quite obvious that the bulk of the drug’s users do not over-imbibe, and are not addled in any way by it. Further, other laws, equally bad or worse, remain in effect because of lack of intellient and passionate opponents, and those laws (consisting of idiotic regulations and intrusive taxation, to name but two) lack such an excusing factor.

Perhaps it is our Purtian heritage that lets bigotry and bluster trump reason, time and again.

Or perhaps it’s the coddling nature of rampant statism, which encourages voters to treat each other as children, through the agency of the state.

Whatever the cause, let’s be clear: This is not new. Alcohol Prohibition was overturned during the Great Depression for this very reason. The states were scrambling for money. Legalizing booze allowed state politicians to gain points by freeing up an eager-to-imbibe populace and scoop up extra funds. It is no purely random thing that it is now that a legalization agenda has some chance of passing.

Yes, it is happening during an economic downturn.

So: If we can’t allow ourselves to shout “Huzzah” three times, at least grunt a “huzz.” It is worth remembering that such amelioration of the extremely horrible with half-measure evil has been the rule for ages. Genghis Khan wanted to kill all Manchurians and raise horses in their stead, until a savvy minion reminded him he could make more wealth by taxing those he would otherwise rather see dead. Manchurians exist, as a people, because of a rather extreme formulation of the Laffer Curve.

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  • Mr. Virkala,

    As a Spaniard (where it is legal to grow and consume marijuana within the limits of your property, as long as it is for personal use) living in Southern California, I agree that marijuana should not be legalized only because it’s taxable. On the other hand, if that is the argument which has to be made in order to persuade enough voters to legalize it, then I am all for it.

    Not as relevant to the marijuana issue, but more to do about California and taxes, it seems that more democrats are willing to raise taxes in order to ease the fiscal pressure on the state. For example, I received a lot of heat for voting against (dual citizenship) legislation which would have increases taxes to pay for a high-speed railroad down the coast of California, and for the provision of more police and fire equipment. Despite the recent upsurge of “paleo-conservative” candidates, I think that this is a mentality shared by a number of republicans, as well. Nobody seems to think that instead of raising taxes, the state should instead decrease spending.

    That is my only preoccupation with this entire marijuana ordeal. I will be glad if it’s legalized, but at the same time I’m afraid that it will just give justification to Sacramento to continue our current trend of high expenditure. California is approaching a crisis of interventionism, as Ludwig von Mises called it, and at this point there is little that taxation can do about it. That said, that is probably the biggest difference between our present crisis and that of the Great Depression; it follows that the consequences of ours will be much worse.

  • Along the same lines, much gambling decriminalization has been driven by the idea that it would stimulate the local economy and provide tax/license revenues to the state. See Pittsburgh, PA for example.