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You know California is in trouble when we start looking to stoners to save us from economic collapse, or at least the stoner-friendly initiative, “The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010,” which will be on the state ballot in November. The Act will, once and for all, end the mindless, expensive legal and political circle jerk over illicit marijuana that has strained California for years. Like antivenin for snake poison, one of the biggest battles in Nixon’s War on Drugs will finally be won by the enemy itself – a drug.

Currently, California’s deficit hovers around $20 billion, it costs the state about $50,000 a year to incarcerate one individual. The public school system is hemorrhaging money to the point that Mark Yudof is asking the public for money that the government won’t (and can’t) give. We have more  prisoners than public college students. Thanks to California’s three strikes law and Proposition 36, California spends millions pointlessly enforcing the marijuana ban.

From the initiative: “According to surveys, roughly 100 million Americans (around one-third of the country’s population) acknowledge that they have used cannabis, 15 million of those Americans having consumed cannabis in the last month. Cannabis consumption is simply a fact of life for a large percentage of Americans.” The initiative goes on to point out that unlike cigarettes, cannabis does not create a physical addiction, does not have a lasting toxic effect on the body and, unlike alcohol, does not make its users violent. As with moonshine alcohol in the 1920s and the intense cigarette marketing of the 1950s (see Don Draper from “Mad Men”), the media creates the hype and stigma that makes a five-pointed leaf simultaneously the symbol of in-your-face rebellion and the collapse of morals and civilization. That doesn’t have to be the case.

In fact, some medical marijuana dispensary owners and cannabis cultivators are against the initiative because of what its regulations will do to their businesses. “The growers are going to get a little over $1,000 and it costs $1,000 to make a pound,” says Stephen Gaspara, who grows medical marijuana in a warehouse in Shasta County. “It’s not going to work out. I’ve crunched the numbers.”

According to him, legalization will cut in half the price of prime California cannabis, which is currently about $2,400 per pound. The State Legislature is also considering taxing cannabis retailers $50 per ounce of cannabis sold, which it may or may not happen considering that the bill also intends to rid the streets of shady black market pot dealers (who sell it considerably cheaper). Still, assuming the Legislature does not implement this tax, this bill does stand to put medical marijuana sellers out of business.

Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Patients will still be able to get their marijuana and the need for trifling and extremely easy-to-get (six-month free trials? Seriously?) medical marijuana cards will go away. The bill’s regulations insist that marijuana be sold only to people 21 years and older and adheres to a lot of laws concerning cigarette smoking (ex. no smoking in public areas, on public school grounds, allowing minors to smoke). Given a few months, marijuana may be sold in smoke shops and 7-11’s around the state in same way top-shelf imported liquor sells in bars. Lucrative cannabis lounges might open up, like the hookah lounges and oxygen bars before them. Just like that, the stigma are removed. Street dealers will no longer be able to take advantage of the ban. Not that they do, anyway. The high rate of use despite the recession suggests that even medical marijuana cards are just a formality for most users.

Some fear that legalization will open the door for hordes of pot heads collectively shirking responsibility by smoking everyday and abandoning the cares and demands of their lives. To this, I respond: alcoholics. Alcoholics are by far the minority among alcohol-drinkers. Alcoholics, like pot heads, shirk their responsibilities and abuse their drug constantly, but unlike pot heads, they get violent, abuse their family members, suffer from long-term brain damage, and often find themselves in Alcoholics Anonymous. Yet, alcohol is still legal and the world is still intact. In fact, the fears surrounding marijuana legalization can draw parallels from a vast range of legal and potentially dangerous social phenomena: cars, planes, glue, power tools, BDSM, guns, etc.

Economically, California’s current $14 billion annual marijuana crop, if legalized, could bring in upwards of $1.4 billion in revenue, or about 5 percent of our state deficit. It would ease the strain on state prisons and jails, which would save the state the millions of dollars it could be using to fund education, job growth and public works.

Rather than chasing down harmless marijuana users and possessors, police forces will be able to (and be held responsible for) hunting down society’s real menaces. Though, more than anything, legalization, once the dust settles, will be one less trifling, stupid issue pitting Republicans against Democrats.

So to those still staunchly against cannabis legalization in California, I can only wonder what you’re smoking.

Sandeep Abraham is a fourth-year literary journalism major.  He can be reached at sandeepa@uci.edu.

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