Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dude, Where's My Tax Revenue?

It can be embarrassing to live in California.  We have a reputation as uncultured airheads living in a haze of smog within huge, sprawling megalopoli, waiting for the next earthquake, landslide, or fire to lend interest to our otherwise mundane existence.  Adding to our shame, we recently decided to deny the basic human right of marriage to about 10% of our population because, well, somebody on TV said it would hurt our children if we didn't (gee, maybe that “airhead” thing isn't that far off base).

Can this plant save California?
On the other hand, there are moments when I am genuinely proud to live here.  I fully expect one of these moments to arrive in November, as voters (yes, the same crowd that defeated same-sex marriage) finally legalize marijuana by passing ballot initiative Proposition 19.  Pot will remain illegal under Federal law, but it's an open question whether the Feds will choose to put any effort into enforcement under such circumstances.

Legalizing pot is the right thing to do, both socially and fiscally.  In pure dollars and cents, legalization is likely to create a substantial new source of much-needed revenue for the state.  At a time when teachers are being furloughed and the neediest citizens are being denied essential services, these funds have never been more critical.

In addition, Prop 19 will eliminate the expense of prosecuting and incarcerating non-violent individuals whose only crime is the possession of a substance that grows freely in the ground beneath our feet.  Think there are no savings there?  Think again:
According to the American Corrections Association, the average daily cost per state prison inmate per day in the US is $67.55. State prisons held 253,300 inmates for drug offenses in 2007. That means states spent approximately $17,110,415 per day to imprison drug offenders, or $6,245,301,475 per year.
— from
License and registration please
And this brings us to the social benefits of legalization.  It is already far too easy for the government to take away our freedom, for any reason it sees fit.  The Miranda protections are undergoing a long, painful emasculation at the hands of a right-wing, activist Supreme Court, while the police are empowered stop you pretty much any time they like, even if it's only because you aren't wearing a seat belt.

A society that so little values the freedom of its members is not one likely to endure, at least, not in a form any of us would find familiar or desirable.  I'm looking forward to striking a small blow for individual liberty by voting "Yes" on Prop 19 in November.