Saturday, April 24, 2010




There’s a sense among a lot of Californians that legalizing marijuana and then taxing it is some sort of panacea that would solve many law enforcement problems, make it safer to smoke pot and also produce a tax bonanza of $1 billion or more per year.

Voters will see just such a proposal in November.

Much of the pro-legalization thinking is based on analogies to the alcohol experience, which sees various forms of booze putting about $3 billion into the coffers of state and local governments each year and providing more than 300,000 jobs around the state.

But cannabis is not alcohol and the current confusion about marijuana does not constitute a situation anything like Prohibition.

For one thing, major distilling companies had produced whiskey, beer and other alcoholic beverages legally for many decades before Prohibition. By contrast, not a single significant tax-paying company has produced so much as an ounce of pot in this state or nation in the last century, if ever.

Yes, criminal elements did control much of the booze trade during Prohibition and they did foment gang warfare during the 1920s and early ‘30s. But backyard breweries and distilleries were far more rare than pot gardens are today. And when it came to larger-scale production, foreigners were rarely involved. So it was far easier to bring alcohol into the realm of legitimate business than is likely with legalized pot.

Then there’s the matter of federal law. When Prohibition ended, so did most federal alcohol raids. But Californians have their heads in the sand if they believe a state vote to legalize pot will end all federal raids on growers and gardens.

Yes, President Obama indicated while campaigning in 2008 that he most likely would not hassle mom and pop medical marijuana operations, from growers to dispensaries. And raids have eased off considerably since his election, even if they have not completely stopped. Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, reserve the option to raid under the constitutional provision giving federal law precedence over state laws.

Obama never said a positive word about recreational marijuana, not covered by the 1996 Proposition 215, which made medipot legal in this state but authorized no other sort of use. Sure, plenty of pot users pay $40 or $50 to shady doctors who hand out the “recommendations” needed to get marijuana at dispensaries that have proliferated in some counties. That’s a subterfuge and an end-run around the law, but falls far short of open defiance of federal law, which full legalization would amount to.

Many precedents suggest such defiance would cause the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to restart serious anti-pot enforcement efforts again if recreational use is “legalized.”

Then there are the matters of price and taxation. The sales and excise levies that would produce the largest share of taxes anticipated by backers of legalization depend directly both on price and the openness of sales.

How likely are pot prices to remain at their present level of $100 per ounce or more? Not very, if every pot user can suddenly grow his or her own in a backyard or a window box. Which means estimates of the tax take from legalization are probably far higher than it would really be – especially if most pot became home grown and not subject to any taxation at all other than what new growers might pay head shops for seeds or small plants.

And how likely are the big commercial pot growers – those who maintain heavily armed cadres of illegal immigrants around their often-boobytrapped gardens in national forests and other woodlands – to allow themselves to be taxed?

With legalization already likely to bring the street price of pot down, the drug cartels behind many of today’s illicit operations won’t want to give a nickel to the tax man.

They may, in fact, engage in some kind of warfare against growers who do pay taxes and let themselves be regulated. They won’t take kindly to competition or to having their street dealers made irrelevant.

Which means legalization could bring to California the kind of drug wars that now plague countries like Mexico and Colombia, where gangs and cartels openly defy police. It’s a Third World horror scene California need not inflict on itself.

None of that even mentions the moral and medical questions often raised both by doctors and police: What is the social benefit of legalizing a mind-altering substance that produces passivity and lethargy? And what about addiction, anxiety and psychosis, three conditions the Harvard Mental Health Letter says (in its April issue) may be associated with regular pot use.

All of which means that life will surely not become simpler if pot is legalized, nor would the benefits be as clear-cut as proponents suggest.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit


  1. How could you inject your opinion about a subject you clearly are ill trained in?
    This is clearly shown when you ask "How likely are pot prices to remain at their present level of $100 per ounce or more?" If you conducted proper research before fueling anti-legalization you would see the average price is $270-$400 an ounce. Then your belief that cartels will take over California is absurd, with the legalization law enforcement wont be dealing with minor offenses and could take time in clearing our state of drug cartels. Additionally unlike Mexico's law enforcement which is corrupt and outnumbered, California has a well trained and loyal police force to control and extinguish cartels. You also then question the moral benefits asking "What is the social benefit of legalizing a mind-altering substance that produces passivity and lethargy?" Have you asked yourself what are the social benefits of alcohol and cigarettes? There are very few with annual deaths attributed to both in the hundreds of thousands just in California. While in the thousands of years marijuana has been around, not a single person has died. So what clear-cut benefits does alcohol have or even prescribed pharmaceuticals to allow them to be legal?

  2. Marijuana prohibition has been a total failure and is perhaps this country's greatest mistake. Not only has it created criminals out of nearly a third of the country's populace, it costs our society billions of dollars every year, creates a strain on our prison system, and has little or no effect on marijuana use in the US. In some cases, prosecuting marijuana use has turned non-violent, middle class kids into violent and unpredictable, career criminals. Once a person has a criminal conviction on their record, they are far less likely to find a good job and become a useful member of society. Other countries with more liberal drug laws have much lower rates of drug addiction among their people. I invite you to my web-pages devoted to raising awareness on the assault on our civil liberties:

  3. Letter to the Editor of Long Beach Press-Telegram
    April 27, 2010
    The opinion piece of Thomas Elias, “Legalizing Marijuana? Not So Fast”, opposing California’s impending decriminalization and taxation of marijuana is an ignorant outrage.
    I am well qualified to address the issue of November’s statewide vote on legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana, having spent 3 years of my life in prison in the 1950s for possession of far less than an ounce. My activity may have been illegal, but it was certainly not criminal. Millions of other Americans have been similarly mistreated since out-of-work Prohibition agents convinced politicians to put them back to work by outlawing a substance then used primarily by people of color.
    Mr. Elias says it is not fair to compare marijuana with the far more harmful widespread use of legal alcohol. So let’s ask “What if tobacco were made illegal?” By Mr. Elias’ logic, that would reduce gang activity and street violence. Making cigarettes available only on the black market, his reasoning dictates, would virtually eliminate its use, and gangs would simply wither away. What kind of fools does Mr. Elias take California voters for?
    We know that making something illegal that millions of people want is a direct path to creating the kind of Al Capone turf wars that now mar Mexican society. The only sensible approach is to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.
    The logical model is California’s wine industry, respected worldwide and a great boon to our economy. Hundreds of growers would compete to breed the best tasting and mellowest products. Mr. Elias says he opposes this kind of free enterprise competition. He doesn’t want our police turn their attentions to real crime, saving us millions of taxpayer dollars currently wasted every year on enforcement of unpopular laws. Mr. Elias denies that revenues generated by taxing marijuana would bolster our state budget as is currently the case with alcohol and tobacco.
    I beseech my fellow voters to ignore the “Sky is Falling” arguments by those who want to continue the present unworkable approach of promoting dominance of criminal gangs in what should be legal trade, and to instead take the lead in enacting a logical solution to this decades-old dilemma.
    “Not So Fast?” I say: “It’s About Time!”
    John Donohue
    Long Beach, California

  4. Let's start with this statement;
    "Yes, criminal elements did control much of the booze trade during Prohibition and they did foment gang warfare during the 1920s and early ‘30s. But backyard breweries and distilleries were far more rare than pot gardens are today."
    Look at all the violence and corruption prohibition brought to this country and you make the (undocumented) claim there are far more illegal grows than there were illegal breweries and distilleries, sounds like a pretty good reason to legalize to me. If the repeal of prohibition eliminated the manufacturing of illicit alcohol just think of how many illegal grows would be eliminated.
    Then there's this little gem;
    "And when it came to larger-scale production, foreigners were rarely involved."
    Ever hear of a country called Canada? Huge amounts of name brand distilled spirits were brought over the border on a daily basis.
    Or how about this one;
    "...especially if most pot became home grown ..."
    Wouldn't that mean far fewer illegal grows, approaching the zero mark if as you claim "most pot" would be homegrown?
    Even if the tax revenues were less than estimated the savings made by the state in reduced costs due to investigation, arrest, trials, public defenders, incarceration,parole or probation, and reduced earnings potential in those convicted of a victimless crime would yield huge dividends in and of themselves.

  5. Prohibition is a sickening horror and the ocean of incompetence, corruption and human wreckage it has left in its wake is almost endless.

    Prohibition has decimated generations and criminalized millions for a behavior which is entwined in human existence, and for what other purpose than to uphold the defunct and corrupt thinking of a minority of misguided, self-righteous Neo-Puritans and degenerate demagogues who wish nothing but unadulterated destruction on the rest of us.

    Based on the unalterable proviso that drug use is essentially an unstoppable and ongoing human behavior which has been with us since the dawn of time, any serious reading on the subject of past attempts at any form of drug prohibition would point most normal thinking people in the direction of sensible regulation.

    By its very nature, prohibition cannot fail but create a vast increase in criminal activity, and rather than preventing society from descending into anarchy, it actually fosters an anarchic business model - the international Drug Trade. Any decisions concerning quality, quantity, distribution and availability are then left in the hands of unregulated, anonymous, ruthless drug dealers, who are interested only in the huge profits involved.

    Many of us have now, finally, wised up to the fact that the best avenue towards realistically dealing with drug use and addiction is through proper regulation which is what we already do with alcohol & tobacco, clearly two of our most dangerous mood altering substances. But for those of you whose ignorant and irrational minds traverse a fantasy plane of existence, you will no doubt remain sorely upset with any type of solution that does not seem to lead to the absurd and unattainable utopia of a drug free society.

    There is an irrefutable connection between drug prohibition and the crime, corruption, disease and death it causes. If you are not capable of understanding this connection then maybe you're using something far stronger than the rest of us. Anybody 'halfway bright', and who's not psychologically challenged, should be capable of understanding that it is not simply the demand for drugs that creates the mayhem, it is our refusal to allow legal businesses to meet that demand.

    No amount of money, police powers, weaponry, diminution of rights and liberties, wishful thinking or pseudo-science will make our streets safer, only an end to prohibition can do that. How much longer are you willing to foolishly risk your own survival by continuing to ignore the obvious, historically confirmed solution?

    If you still support the kool aid mass suicide cult of prohibition, and erroneously believe that you can win a war without logic and practical solutions, then prepare yourself for even more death, corruption, terrorism, sickness, imprisonment, unemployment, foreclosed homes, and the complete loss of the rule of law and the Bill of Rights.

    "A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded."
    Abraham Lincoln

    The only thing prohibition successfully does is prohibit regulation & taxation while turning even our schools and prisons into black markets for drugs. Regulation would mean the opposite!