Kyle Magin: Legalize it? Maybe, but think first |

Kyle Magin: Legalize it? Maybe, but think first

It sometimes seems like you can’t go more than a few conversations without talking about pot in the state of California.

Whether it’s jokes about someone’s cousin who went to Humboldt State, a news item about a dispensary busted by federal drug enforcement officers or the seemingly endless series of proposed legislative measures to legalize the plant, it is, well, a burning topic.

The facts are relatively well known. Pot is California’s cash crop and a product worth tens of billions of dollars nationally. A few counties and#8212; Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino and#8212; claim up to two-thirds of their economy is dependent on the marijuana trade, according to a 2009 report done by NBC.

The plant has a dark side, too. Mexican cartels have moved into Northern California to cultivate the drug, bringing violence with them. Availability is still rampant for young users and#8212; a 2008 study by the state’s Attorney General’s office said by 11th grade 31 percent of students admitted to trying marijuana and#8212; and cases of abuse and psychological addiction, while rare, do occur.

And, lest we forget, it’s not like everyone is using. According to a recent National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, about 1.6 million Californians use the drug on a semi-regular or regular basis. That’s all of about 4 percent of the state’s population of 37 million.

Anecdotally, personal stories of pot use and the trade in weed abound, even locally. It’s a poorly kept secret that some local ski resort lifties accept a and#8220;green passand#8221; and#8212; a joint and#8212; in exchange for overlooking the fact you didn’t buy a ski pass. Ditto for workers at golf courses and bicycle repair shops and#8212; who are occasionally paid and tipped for their services in marijuana.

So, with those tidbits and figures in mind, it’s time to make up our minds about how pot fits into the fabric of life in California, to have a mature conversation about the controversial plant.

Do we want to legalize and tax it? Are we being honest about our current medical marijuana laws? What are the implications of legalizing weed?

In our current economic climate legalization is certainly attractive to the dollars-and-cents types. Why allow a major cash crop go to waste because it gets people high? Why allow those dollars and#8212; dollars given every day to dealers in Tahoe and#8212; to continue to go untaxed? We’re letting an incredibly valuable, incredibly desired product stuff the pockets of some questionable types without benefiting our cash-strapped state. Some, like State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D- San Francisco, say the taxation of marijuana could net the state more than $1.3 billion annually.

But, Ammiano’s proposed legislation exposes something we probably already know and#8212; Californians haven’t been totally honest about medical marijuana. If we legalize the drug, doesn’t it render our current marijuana laws a farce and make us own up to the fact medical pot was just a first step toward total legalization? What was the point of calling it medicine when a few doctors will write a prescription for just about anyone who can fake a good case of insomnia or persistent migraines? It’s an interesting progression, first calling something a medicine for the deathly ill, then prescribing it under dubious pretenses and finally legalizing the whole shebang.

Finally, what are our consequences? What do we stand to lose if pot is legalized? Use will go up, for sure, as increased, easy supply will no doubt match the demand of those who wouldn’t have bothered for legal reasons. It’ll mean more stoned people and#8212; and stoned youths and#8212; walking, driving and interacting in society on a daily basis. And then there’s maybe the most important fact of all: In the eyes of Uncle Sam, pot possession, growing and use is still illegal. That’s the reason the Feds raid California medical marijuana dispensaries with impunity and disregard for state law.

These and other issues must be thoroughly vetted if we are to honestly say and#8212; or one day vote and#8212; yes to marijuana. Anything less than a statewide conversation will be a disservice. Before we sprint toward new revenues, let’s race first to think about the consequences.

Kyle Magin is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. He can be reached at

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