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OPINION: Conundrum won’t go away

November 6, 2010

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In our view / Marijuana’s legal status
Published November 5th
Heraldnet.com

On the same day that California voters rejected a measure to legalize marijuana, federal, state and Mexican authorities launched an operation that led to the confiscation of more than 20 tons of pot and the discovery of a smuggler’s tunnel between Mexico and California.

That’s a lot of pot. The marijuana is worth more than $20 million if sold on the streets of San Diego, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton.

The bust, and the vote (and the rejection of three other marijuana measures on Tuesday) reflect the multi-layered marijuana conundrum:

If marijuana was legal in the United States, would it increase or decrease smuggling from Mexico and Canada? Would it increase or decrease grow operations set up in our national parks and forests?

Are the tons of pot being smuggled into the country really being sold in San Diego, or elsewhere in California, where by all accounts marijuana is readily available everywhere? Or is it bound for other states where marijuana might be harder to obtain, such as South Dakota, which rejected a medical marijuana initiative on Tuesday?

On Sept. 30, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law decriminalizing marijuana — dropping the penalty for possession of an ounce of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction punishable by a $100 fine. With that law, plus the state’s liberal medical marijuana law, did California voters feel that there wasn’t really a need to formally legalize pot? That to do so would just draw unwanted federal attention?

(In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn is seeking a review of the city’s ambiguous policy that makes marijuana the “lowest enforcement priority” for police. If a law can be passive-aggressived out of existence, perhaps Seattle is the city do it.)

When one considers the country’s recreational and medical marijuana users together, and estimates that the smuggled Mexican marijuana was worth more than $20 million on the streets, will it all come down to economics?

If Americans are going to smoke pot, and they are, why should they buy Mexican and Canadian marijuana? What would be the revenue to states, and the country, if it were legal?

As it is, marijuana is already the largest cash crop in Washington and California, as it is for the United States, where it reportedly is worth $35.8 billion a year. California is responsible for the bulk — its harvest is worth about $14 billion, totally dwarfing the wine industry, according to state reports.

With that kind of revenue already, maybe there’s no need to tax and regulate it. Maybe it’s best to leave well enough alone.

 See original posting here: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20101105/OPINION01/711059864

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