18 August 2010

Common Sense Economics and Social Policy

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Opinion: Critics of Prop. 19 on marijuana rely on fear, not facts

Special to the Mercury News
Unlike alcohol and tobacco -- two legal but deadly products -- marijuana's estimated social costs are minimal.
According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states, "In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user."
A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, "On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies."
So then why are we so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own home?
California lawmakers criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in 1913 -- a full 24 years before the federal government enacted prohibition. Yet right now in California, the federal government reports that one out of 10 people annually use marijuana and together consume about 1.2 million pounds of it. Self-evidently, cannabis is here to stay. Let's address this reality and stop ceding control of this market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises and put it in the hands of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first step in this direction.
According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the immediate effect of the measure would be to allow adults age 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their own home. The agency estimates that halting the prosecution of these minor marijuana offenses would save state and local governments "several tens of millions of dollars annually," and enable law enforcement to reprioritize resources toward other criminal activities.
The longer-term impact of Proposition 19 would be to enable "local governments to adopt ordinances and regulations regarding commercial marijuana-related activities." These activities would include taxing and licensing establishments to produce and dispense marijuana to persons 21 and older. By doing so, "state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues," the office estimates.

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