Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The issue legal pot seems to morph with every headline. Just when you think you've got a handle on it, something pops up from left field and forces the thinking person to re-evaluate his position or question the very premises on which that position was based.

When the issue first became public discourse, the players, advocates and opponents were fairly well established. The proponents for legalized cannabis were, of course, the stoners, the genuinely sick who found relief in the herb and the growers and sellers. Cops? Nope. Didn't want it. Politicians? They weren't sure. Their position, as with every position they take, centered on whether they could 1) ensure re-election and 2) if there was some way lard the slush funds and public treasure they're in charge of.

Alliances seem to have shifted and they seem to defy the old logic. Now, most cops, as we saw last week, are in favor of complete legalization. They want the issue out of their lives so they can focus smaller budgets on bigger fish. Stoners, of course, are all for it. Ditto the genuine patients. Even the Teamsters Union, hard up for membership and union dues, is reaching out to legal pot workers in a bid to unionize them. Free suggestion for a name: CANNABIS WORKERS TEAMSTERS LOCAL 420.

The old line growers in the NORCAL green triangle, the one group you would think was on the forefront of total legalization, isn't so sure anymore. They foresee a future where anybody with a few square feet of dirt in the back yard, is suddenly either a competitor or a self-sustaining user. In either case, their profits suffer. In addition to competition eating into the proceeds, they see the government stepping in and demanding business permits, corporate taxes, individual taxes, payroll taxes, workmen's comp, FICA, unemployment insurance, OSHA inspections, Department of Agriculture interference and the rest of the red tape that seems to be the government's sole reason for existence. And if the Teamsters get their way, the pot growers will have to deal with sick-outs, sit-down strikes, mandatory collective bargaining, shop stewards, picketers, paid holidays, retirement plans, repetitive motion injury lawsuits and all the other problems that unionized shops have to deal with. Think General Motors.

Sam Quinones wrote a piece touching on some of this in the LA Times some weeks ago. The reality of legalization flies in the face of the advocates whose mantra has been, "Legalize it and tax it." Well the very people providing the product aren't so sure they're on board with that any more. It turns out that dope growers have a lot more in common with Libertarians than they do with Socialists and Liberal activists. They don't want to be taxed and gummed up with paperwork any more than the most avaricious Wall Street hustler.

And let's not forget that the criminal element has a vote. Would wholesale legalization drive the criminals out of the business? Absolutely not. It may reduce the crime (and that's debatable), but it won't take criminals out of the equation.

For instance, who is currently in the perfect position to supply tons and tons of low cost product to the market? If you guessed the Mexican cartels, you guessed right. They can outproduce and undercut the big NORCAL growers and they can do it without government interference, taxes, the Teamsters Union or OSHA standards. They may even make a backyard grower think twice about going through the pain of growing a private crop. If it's cheaper to buy than grow, they'll buy. Think Mexican assembled TV sets and patio furniture. Mexico can undercut any manufactured product built in the U.S. There's no reason to think they can't do it with Cannabis.

If this scenario sounds over the top, consider this. When you make pot legal, (truly legal, not just decriminalized) it should be legal to import, transport, distribute, package, sell, re-sell, give samples away, use in public, promote and advertise.

You can see the time when the giant loads of hay driving south on the 5 from the Central Valley will be in the company of flatbeds  loaded to the stakes with bundles of Cannabis. If it's legal, why not? Your thoughts.

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