Before when I wrote on Californiaâ€™s Proposition 19 (â€œLegalizing Marijuanaâ€ July 14, 2010), I said, â€œIf the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes.â€ This is an argument that has been made in favor of the proposition. But the monetary benefit is actually illusionary.
There cannot be any income from taxes on pot under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court has already ruled (unanimously) that it is unconstitutional to require anyone to pay taxes on marijuana because to do so is to admit to a violation of federal law (Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 1969). Even if Proposition 19 passes, the use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. It would not be long before a tax case comes to court and cities like Oakland, who are banking on income from taxes on pot, will find that those coffers will remain empty.
Any savings from decriminalizing marijuana will have to be redirected to the demands of regulation, which are part of the proposition. Drug enforcement will still be required not just for the regulation of marijuana, but also for the increased trafficking of other drugs. The â€œcriminal elementsâ€ are unlikely to enter the legitimate marijuana business, but they will find an increased market for harder drugs, given the legal availability of such an excellent gateway drug.
There is no need for this proposition. Under the present policy in California, all you need is a doctorâ€™s note and you can buy your â€œmedicalâ€ marijuana. Most people who buy medical marijuana donâ€™t actually need it. Ask around. In the past, I have used a doctor who would give me a â€œnoteâ€ for the price of a beer. As it happens, not one note was for pot, but had I wanted one, he would have written it.