Thursday, August 6, 2009

Can A Patch Of "Weed" Staunch Civil Financial Hemorrhage Crisis?

The Toquer's Taxonomy

As the "recession" trudges along toward a ful-fledged "depression," governments on all levels are struggling to find significant new sources of revenue. One long-time favorite revenue-producing remedy has traditionally been the "sin tax": taxes levied on otherwise socially undesirable behaviors. The cigaret tax is a current example, and so is the liquor tax. States which permit gambling tax those receipts generously. Historically, taxes have been levied even on prostitution. So it is not much of a surprise that states and municipalities have turned their attentions to taxing the consumption of America's favorite and most frequently consumed--but also the most extravagantly demonized-- recreational "crop," marijuana.

At present, Oakland, CA, is leading the way. But many other governments are looking at the idea. Los Angeles, CA, is considering a pot tax to augment its coffers. Indeed, California Governor Schwartznegger has asked for a large-scale study to report on whether taxing 'ganja' would be expedient for answering some of the State's enormous and still growing budget ills: The state’s proposed $50 an ounce pot tax would bring in about $1.3 billion a year in additional revenue. Meanwhle, in July, a writer for the (libertarian) Cato Institute suggested using a designated marijuana tax to pay the State's teachers.

A similar expedient has also been studied by (unlikely) politicians on the otherside of the continent: A year before leaving office, former MA. Governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney considered the expedient to help fund the State's shrinking budget and declining revenues.

Unfortunately, the tax proposals only seem to apply to so-called "medical marijuana," the production, procurement, and use of which is now either legal or decriminalized in 13 states, including New Mexico. But it is manifestly unfair to lay the entire burden of this stream of revenue generation on the backs of people whose use of the weed is required or recommended as part of a course of medical therapy. All pot-smokers should be required to share this burden.

To accomplish, however, would of course require the NATIONAL legalization/decriminalization of the substrance, a move that the most powerful national politicos and institutions have been loathe to pursue, for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that it would require--or at least be tantamount to-- the admission by those Drug Warriors and others, of the complete and utter disaster the preceding 70 or 80 years of "drug wars" and sundry other persecutions that have been visited upon users in the course of a thinly veiled racial/class struggle to suppress the users have been.

Also, the 'drug war' is an immensely profitable and popular machinery for the Law & Order contingent, along with providing a convenient tool for suppressing "undesirable" populations. The explosive militarification of the local constabulary has occurred overwhelmingly under the rubric of battling drug-dealers, for example. (Cops LOVE 'em some M-16s. Makes 'em look SO kewl!) And it has resulted in exponential increases in police 'home raids,' and consequent abuses of power by the "law." In addition, proceeds from the sale of goods and property confiscated during the execution of drug arrests and convictions have been a rich source of (often unaccountable and unaccounted) revenues, as well asa a source of nearly constant abuse of police powers. Proceeds from confiscated property are dedicated to further "police" work against drug users and dealers. For obvious reasons, either legalization or decriminalization for this component of the problem is a non-starter.

Then there's the penal industry, the vast majority of those incarcerated in which are 'drug' offenders of one sort or another, and a plurality of whom are mere users. The California prison guards union, which by itself defeated recent efforts to throw out California's draconian, excessive "3-Strikes" policy, are unalterably opposed to Legalization or decriminalization, because that would reduce the number of convictions, and subsequent imprisonments, which would thereby reduce the number of guards needed to 'supervise' those convicts.

So there are fiercely powerful interests arrayed against the universal legalization/decriminalization of pot. It will be interesting to regard and report on the conflicts ensuing from the very real needs of the 'body politic' for new sourcesof revenue in general, and the vested special-interests arrayed against change.

Watch this space.

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