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Paul Armentano: Your Tax Dollars at Work

Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, along with five previous drug czars (including gambling addict William Bennett), have an op/ed in today’s Los Angeles Times condemning California’s Prop. 19.Given that the Drug Czar is required by law to oppose any and all efforts that would seek to legalize marijuana — including “any study … relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of” cannabis — his vitriol should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless, his commentary clearly begs the question: How is it appropriate for Californians to pay taxes to cover the salary of a federal official who spends a significant part of his time telling these same taxpayers how to vote on a statewide ballot measure?

As far as Kerlikowske’s specific allegations against Prop. 19, suffice to say that you’ve heard them all before — including this whopper, “Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana.” (Really? Then how do you explain this? Or this? Or this?)

NORML has already submitted a rebuttal to the L.A. Times. Our allies at Fire Dog Lake also have posted a strong refutation which you can read here. No doubt the headline says it all: “CA Prop 19: Drug Czars’ Latest Anti-Marijuana Propaganda is Easily Refuted.”

Here’s a snippet:

Their argument that a tax on legal marijuana would raise almost no money is just plain silly.

“Regarding the supposed economic benefits of taxing marijuana, some comparison with two drugs that are already regulated and taxed — alcohol and tobacco — is worth considering. People don’t typically grow their own tobacco or distill their own spirits, so consumers accept high taxes on them as retail products. Marijuana, though, is easy and cheap to cultivate, indoors or out, and Proposition 19 would allow individuals to grow as much as 25 square feet of marijuana for ‘personal consumption.’

“Why would people volunteer to pay high taxes on marijuana if it were legalized? The answer is that many would not, and the underground market, adapting to undercut any new taxes, would barely diminish at all.”

I guess the Drug Czars have never heard of convenience before. Most people don’t actually like dealing with criminals or drug dealers. They would rather buy their vodka or marijuana from the liquor store down the street than spend their time tracking down some shady criminal smuggler to save a few bucks on taxes. The end of alcohol prohibition is in fact the perfect test case for this insane theory that legalization would result in almost no decrease of the black market. The reality was an almost immediate destruction of the black market for alcohol. Do you or any of your friends or family currently get liquor on the black market? I doubt it.

It’s a sound response — to which I would add, I guess the Drug Czar has never heard of supermarkets; because last time I checked these facilities had entire sections of the store dedicated to the sale of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of other food stuffs that folks could grow cheaply and easily on their own — but most don’t. Why? For the same reason most marijuana users, even under legalization, won’t likely grow their own pot: they either don’t have the time, the space, or the expertise to do so. And even among those who do — most folks would simply prefer to pay a premium for the convenience of not having had to do it themselves.

As for the rest of the Czar’s rhetoric, it’s simply more of the same and the folks at FDL nail it.

This is what makes the fight to end our war on marijuana so difficult. The other side is not interested in an honest policy debate. Instead of honest argument, they rely on half-truths, distortions, twisted logic, ridiculous statements and naked propaganda. Sadly, America, this op-ed from Kerlikowske and friends is your wasted tax dollars at work.

Paul Armentano wrote this post for NORML, where he serves as the Deputy Director. Along with Mason Tvert and Steve Fox, Paul is the author of Marijuana is Safer, So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?

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