It's simple: First we tax the booze. Then we legalize the pot. Done.
It is a time of strange bedfellows and bizarre contortions and extraordinary responses to extreme situations, all overslathered with gobs of panic and dread and oh my God, I might have to sell the Range Rover.
In other words, it is a time -- like you don't already know -- of plentiful alarmist rhetoric, resulting in weird outbursts of ingenuity and wanton ethics-loosening, all in a desperate effort to suck up some much-needed cash.
Translation: Money's tight, baby. City's in trouble. State's deep in the hole. Nation's broke.
Solution? Upend the system. Think differently. Get creative. Demolish Ye Olde Ways. And maybe get a really nice buzz on while you're at it.
Where to begin? How can the city/state refill their empty coffers and further gouge the populace to make ends meet? Increased bridge tolls? A new per-mile driving tax? Heavier parking fines? State parks abandoned and left to seed? Child's play, darling.
You want to raise funds in an instant? You want a sure-fire, double-barreled source of nearly limitless funds from a wary, burned-out citizenry? That's easy. Go after its biggest vices, its most beloved balms.
Up first: booze. Already local governments are quietly proposing jacking up the alcohol tax and loosening sales restrictions because, well, why the hell not? Aren't you, right this very moment, as you prepare your taxes and weep over your gutted portfolio and stare down one very bleak 2009, more in need of a drink or three than at any time in recent history except for the entirety of the last eight miserable, Bush-stabbed years? Well, there you go. Tax increases on cocktails, here they come.
But it's not just governments. Check out the happily shameless TV networks who, for the first time in a whocares number of years, are allowing ads for alcohol and K-Y lube during prime-time programming. Oh the outrage! Oh the debauchery! Who, pray who, will protect the children? Oh wait, the children are out buying daddy some more beer and applying for a job at Starbucks to help pay rent. Never mind.
New taxes on the other Great American vices: porn, gambling, prescription meds, pro sports, obesity, Miley Cyrus? Watch for it.
Now, let's get serious. Because there are, of course, bigger fish to fry in the sea of potentially lucrative, all-American inebriates. There is a far more potent, obvious solution to the state's budget woes, a huge, untapped revenue source, and now might be the perfect time to, you know, light it up.
Really now, could there be a better time to decriminalize/fully legalize pot? Or, more fully, to decriminalize pot, and then spread respectable pot shops and vending machines and dispensaries far and wide, instill quality control and decent oversight and then tax the living hell out of the glorious, stress-reducing goodness, as we stop wasting billions fighting its grand ubiquity and instead sink into profitable pools of warm, hazy progress? Don't you already know the answer?
It's difficult to imagine that some intrepid legislator hasn't already walked into Arnie "Pot is not a drug" Schwarzenegger's office and said, "Governator, now is the time. Light it up. Inhale the new reality. Pot is, by a huge margin, the single largest cash crop in the state unless you count porn stars and celebrity rehab. It rakes in upwards of $14 billion a year -- maybe a lot more than that -- and that's just from five clever hippies and a couple intrepid grandmas in Ukiah. Imagine what we could do if we went all-in."
Are the discussions ongoing? Are they passing the bong of possibility around the state Senate chambers? You're damn right they are. What's holding them back? Probably the usual: the negative PR, looking "soft" on crime, encouraging permissiveness, pressure from prison lobbies, and so on. Don't worry, Sacramento. Everyone's already plenty drunk/high on prescription meds trying to alleviate fears of losing their job to care about that nonsense right now. Get to it.
There won't be much pushback from D.C. President Obama's already stated that his upcoming appointee to head the DEA is going to knock it the hell off with the insidious raids of harmless medical pot shops in California, and wants to quit using federal resources to bash hippies and circumvent state laws.
Look. Is there really anyone left who doesn't already know the "War on Drugs" is a pathetic joke, an abject failure and a taxpayer nightmare, and the only reason it survives at all is to fund the CIA and fellate the prison guard unions and support a shameful prison system, and to let politicians say they're "tough on crime" so they can to deflect all those uninformed parents who relentlessly whine about pot in public schools just before dashing off a wine-tasting party to snort a nice line of Bolivian coke?
Anyone left, furthermore, who doesn't know that pot is far safer than booze, less addictive, nonviolent, more transportable, easier to light, and generally won't interfere with your ability to crawl across the carpet and lick cookie crumbs from your lover's thighs? And sure, while heavy, daily usage can make you slow and stupid and rather useless to the world, well, so can a six-pack of Diet Dr. Pepper and six hours of TV every day. Gateway drug? That's on Channel 2, right after "Oprah."
And another thing. Maybe it wouldn't be merely tax 'n' puff. Maybe California, already the pot-growing capital of the nation, could become something more. A hub. A world-class research center. Pot education, study, medicine, import/export, the works. We could ship our crop to various nations in desperate need of chilling the hell out, like Israel. Palestine. Pakistan. Russia. The N-Judah on a Friday afternoon. We could become the largest research and manufacturing center in the world. How proud we would be. You know, sort of.
Let's phrase this grand scenario in another way: Why the hell not try it? What have we got to lose? What, we could go more broke? We could get more desperate and anxious? Fact is, economic nightmares need not breed only miserable stories of lost homes and lost jobs and shuttered businesses. They can also spawn creative solutions, innovative thinking, widespread munchies. Now is the time.
Let's not get carried away. Pot's only one little inebriate, one mild and -- let's just admit it -- relatively boring feel-good plant. California is $40 billion in debt and we're running low on water and we can't give away those hideous tract developments out in Stockton. Milking the pot cow for all she's worth might net us, at best, a few billion a year. To get out of this massive hole, we'd have to legalize Ecstasy too. (Someday, honey, someday).
But it's something. It's radical new thinking that's not the slightest bit radical, or new, and in fact the notion is now even more obvious than it's been for the past 30 years. What are we waiting for? A match?
By Mark Morford
February 20, 2009