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Legal Pot; The New NORML

There is a growing movement to legalize marijuana. The folks at NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) must be high with the results of referenda in Washington and Colorado, and not because they are eating too many hash brownies. Voters in both states approved ballot initiatives legalizing possession of limited amounts of pot for personal, recreational use.

Colorado residents may legally possess amounts up to once ounce and cultivate up to six plants. Washington will permit purchases of up to one ounce from authorized retailers.

This was not the result of efforts by a ragtag bunch of stoned hippies in tie-died shirts. In each state there was a well organized and financed game plan including the decision to put the issue on the ballot in a presidential election year to guarantee a larger turn out of voters at the polls.

Washington has created a three tiered tax on the whacky weed: 25% on sales from the growers; 25% on sales from wholesalers; and 25% on retail sales. The state projects annual revenues in the $500 million range. Colorado will limit taxes to 15%, with an estimated tax windfall of $60 million annually. Regulating and taxing the adult use of weed has taken the drug from the Age of Aquarius to the age of corporate profit. No longer will stoners have to seek their products in back alleys. Pretty soon there will be kiosks in all the malls, probably right across from Mrs. Fields Cookies!

The conundrum for these high guys and gals in those states is the continued existence of federal drug laws that prohibit cultivation and distribution of marijuana. Already the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration have reiterated that they will continue to investigate and prosecute marijuana cases. They have intimated that there will be an effort to block the collection of tax revenues. It’s doubtful that federal narcs will be waiting outside the local head shop to bust purchasers. What is likely is a showdown between well funded corporate supporters of retail distribution and the DEA which will probably go as high (sorry, couldn’t resist that one) as the U.S. Supreme Court.

In mid-October the Justice Department announced that it would not pursue medical marijuana users or distributors who act in accordance with state laws. Three more states, including our own, have now approved medical marijuana sales and use.

Proponents of the legislation argue that legal sales of grass will have a detrimental impact on the drug cartels. They even enlisted former law enforcement officials to decry the costly, failed war on drugs. The Huffington Post reported that over $1 trillion in tax dollars has been spent in the last 40 years, and yet the use of the drug proliferates.

Marijuana, and the hemp plant from which it is derived, has been used for various purposes dating back to 2700 B.C. It wasn’t until Congress passed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 that it became criminalized on a national level. The Act was modeled after the earlier Harrison Tax Act of 1914 that placed heavy taxes on the importation and distribution of opiates and cocaine, and ultimately criminalized those drugs.

With the lame brains in Congress considering limiting or eliminating the home mortgage deduction as a way to increase tax revenues, it’s only a matter of time before they will realize the tax windfall to be had by legalizing this multibillion dollar underground economy. Maybe they are all too high on medical marijuana to figure that one out!

Rich Meehan