THE BLOG
06/07/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Legalize Drugs, Balance Budgets

Vansterdam was front and center during the 2010 Winter Olympics and its downtown streets were full of revelers who partied even though the liquor stores were closed much of the time.

That's because pot was everywhere, and you didn't even have to light up to get a buzz.

This is nothing new. Marijuana has been virtually decriminalized in British Columbia, and it's an open secret that the annual export crop has been bigger than forestry exports have been for a decade.

Trafficking for export is still very illegal in Canada, but it appears as though one of the biggest markets, California, is likely to legalized cannibis in the November 2 elections.

California Dreamin'

The issue will be a referendum question on the ballot and a majority voting yes will carry the force of law. It is being promoted by a movement called "Tax Cannabis" designed to appeal to those voters who refuse to allow tax hikes, or a curtailment of government services, and have sent the state into near-bankruptcy.

Estimates are that sales of marijuana total US $14 billion every year. Proponents talk about a US $1.4 billion tax on sales but if the stuff is taxed the same as cigarettes or liquor the government's take could be up to US$14 billion. Its 2009 deficit was around US$42 billion.
A tax on pot would be talkin' real money.

The Governator is leaving and the two principal competitors for the job of running a state, the economic size of France, are both opposed to legalization. But that doesn't matter in the wacky world of neverendums in California.

Californians have done crazier things

Since the latest referendum forbids taxes or cost cutting, the result has been a release of prisoners before sentences are completed and a host of other loopy goings-on, including paying suppliers with I.O.U.s, not real money.

And the state is halfway there now. It legalized medical marijuana use in the late 1990s.
This has pitted California against the federal government's Drug Enforcement Agency which has continued to harass and arrest pot growers on the basis that some are a little too aggressive in their marketing techniques.

Outright legalization will escalate this federal-state squabble, but Obama was sympathetic to lifting controls on pot during his election campaign.

And for good reason. The substance is less harmful than alcohol, and could raise a bunch of tax dollars. Besides, Prohibition didn't work in the 1920s and it doesn't work now.
It's silly that prisons and paddy wagons throughout the U.S. are unfortunately full of people busted for a little bit of pot that sells openly on Vancouver, or Toronto, street corners as well as in most parts of the world.

Once California makes it legal, other states and provinces will too, notably British California.