California may have found its pot of gold

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Psst. Hey buddy, wanna buy some weed?

The whispering around street corners may be over for anyone wanting to buy marijuana in California, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday that he's open to debate about legalizing and taxing marijuana for recreational use, according to a Sacramento Bee story.

It may be just the thing to help the more than 2 million Californians who are unemployed find work. But I'm skeptical because anytime the government gets involved in something and taxes it, prices are likely to drop, which is good for the consumer, but the drug pushers probably won't make as much money as they used to. Then again, they're less likely to get arrested and serve jail time for breaking the law, too.

Fewer small-time pushers in jail would solve another chronic problem in California: Overcrowded prisons.

Schwarzenegger said he didn't support legalization, but he said it should be looked at as the cash-strapped state looks for revenue.
"Well, I think it's not time for (legalization), but I think it's time for a debate," the governor told the Bee. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it. And I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?"

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has written a bill to allow the legal sale of marijuana to adults 21 and older. Wholesalers would pay flat fees each year, and retailers would pay $50 per ounce to the state. It would ban cannabis near schools and prohibit smoking it in public places.

Legalizing marijuana would raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, which could be offset by a reduction in cigarette or alcohol sales if people switch to pot.

I wrote about this issue in February for WalletPop. A state study found that marijuana usage would increase by 40% and the price would drop by half.

That may be all well and good for consumers, but it won't help the dealers increase their incomes. As a Californian who has been out of work for almost a year, I think I'll stay away from pushing pot.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net

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