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Students Mixed About Pot Taxes, Legalization


420 Staff
A New Study Examining the Economics of Pot Raises Questions About Legalization.

Depression, chronic pain, insomnia, stress.

For these and almost anything else that ails you, an alleged umbrella cure has emerged. It's not a magical pill, Eastern medicine or the latest marvel - it's marijuana.

But a new study shows marijuana's usage goes beyond medicinal; the drug can be helpful in the economic realm as well.

Jon Gettman, a longtime policy analyst who holds a Ph.D. in public policy, has published a new study contending that legalizing marijuana would create tax revenue and save taxpayers millions of dollars. If marijuana were legalized and taxed, similar to alcohol and other commodities, those who use the drug would be paying the taxes, he said.

The study found that the United States is losing $30 million to underground marijuana sales and diverting money from the regional economy, Gettman said.

"Right now, the people who are profiting most, the growers and sellers, are not paying a dime for the problems their industry creates," he said.

College and high school students are the ones most affected by marijuana's illegal status, Gettman said.

"Who do you think gets busted the most? College and high school kids," he said. "The arrest rate for teens or young adults is three or four times higher than the rest of the public."

Gettman said he believes youths working to legalize marijuana is "good citizenship."

"The law hits people who are vulnerable," he said. "College kids need to realize that this affects them as taxpayers down the road."

Gettman was attracted to the cause because, as a teenager, he worked in a drug paraphernalia store for eight years, where he said he discovered the positive effects marijuana can have on sick people.

"I thought I ought to be working on the underlying problem as a matter of social responsibility," he said.

Gettman became the national director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in 1986 and said he was inspired by the compassion and dedication of those who worked there and fought for people who needed marijuana for medical purposes.

He went on to create the Coalition for Rescheduling Cannabis in 2002, which consists of medical marijuana users and nonprofit groups who represent patients. Gettman then launched Drugscience.org to post information about the legal rescheduling process and cannabis reform.

The coalition's main concern is getting marijuana changed from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule II or III drug, Gettman said. Scheduling refers to the medicinal properties a substance provides, its likelihood to be abused, the risk of users becoming physically and mentally dependent and the consequences of misuse. Schedule I classifies a substance as having no medicinal properties and a high likelihood of abuse and addiction.

Substances listed as such include LSD, heroin and MDMA, the main ingredient of the drug ecstasy. Schedule II drugs, controlled substances with high potential for abuse such as morphine, are approved for medical use with strict limitations. Schedule III drugs have lower risks of abuse and addiction.

The process to have marijuana reclassified could be lengthy and tedious.

"Patients who need marijuana shouldn't have to wait between 10 and 12 years for complicated administrative processes to take place," Gettman said.

As of now, the Food and Drug Administration does not recognize marijuana's medicinal use, and a perceived increase in its usage has refueled the decades-long debate over the legalization of the drug.

Complicating matters, prescriptions to purchase and consume marijuana are being handed out like candy in California.

One USC student, who was first prescribed medicinal marijuana at 18 years old, said the process "was one of the easiest things I've ever done in my life."

The student, who received his prescription on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles, said he walked into the clinic with $150 and his driver's license. A secretary "rubbed his shoulders" and told him he "had come to the right place."

While the student, who declined to give his name, said he told the doctor he needed the prescription to ease chronic back pain, he admitted to having an ulterior primary goal.

"I got it to smoke pot," he said. "Whether or not it was for a medical reason."

He did have chronic back pain, however, and "it actually did help my back," he said.

Legalization, Regulation or a Pinch of Both?

Esther Kim, the manager of the California Caregivers Association, a medicinal marijuana center located in West Los Angeles, said the clinic was opened to help people who suffer from cancer, insomnia and chronic pain.

The CCA sees 60 to 70 walk-in clients per day, Kim said.

"We're told by the patients themselves that [marijuana] really works for them," she said. "Many people consider it a taboo and assume it is abused, and they don't know it's being used as medicine."

But Kim said she supports a move toward cannabis regulation, not its legalization.

"I don't think marijuana should be completely legal," she said. "Safety rules should be attached to it as well."

Legalizing marijuana won't change how people act, said Bruce Margolin, director of the Los Angeles chapter of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"Everyone already does it," he said. "If it were legalized, people would sell it and buy it like they do tomatoes."

Proponents of medical marijuana have been pushing for its legalization for years. In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

Margolin said he sees no reason why marijuana should be illegal in the first place.

"I don't care whether it's medical, philosophical or for a fun time at a party, there should be a right to smoke," he said.

Students have mixed opinions on whether cannabis should be legalized for any purposes.

Fay Li, a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism, said she has never smoked marijuana and is against legalization.

"It's a drug with negative effects, and I don't think legalizing it is a smart way for the government to get more money from people," she said.

Cyndi Thiel, an undeclared sophomore who has smoked marijuana, said she is pro-legalization.

"There'd be a lot less drug trafficking and crime," Thiel said. "I feel that from the research I've seen, smoking pot is safer than alcohol abuse."

The student prescribed medical marijuana, who supports legalization, said he would pay taxes on marijuana because it would lower prices.

"Dealers wouldn't charge as much for the risk they take," he said.

California As a Case Study

William Mallon, associate professor of clinical emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and director of international emergency medicine at the Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center, doesn't expect marijuana to become legalized anytime soon.

"Talk of legalization is a waste of time, because it's not happening," he said. "This country is not in any way, shape or form ready for it."

California is one of 12 states that permit medicinal uses of marijuana.

State-by-state, however, "California is more an example of failure than success," Mallon said.

As soon as medical marijuana centers bring in successful revenue streams, the Drug Enforcement Agency goes after them, he said. All marijuana-related arrests in California have been based on federal law, he said.

"As a physician, I'd like to not have people smoke anything," Mallon said. "The argument [about tax revenues] may hold up, but the real cost of legalization is hard to say based on health care risks that are associated with any kind of smoking. As far as the argument that tax revenues would offset the cost of marijuana, I would offer up alcohol as an argument of how false that is."

Mallon cited the Netherlands as a place where marijuana is legal and abused by foreigners.

"Holland has become a tourist destination for people who want to get high," he said.

Edward Newton, chairman of USC's department of emergency medicine, said he believes the country as a whole is not in favor of legalizing marijuana.

"If the government legalizes it, it's kind of an implicit endorsement of its use," he said. "You wouldn't want the pilot who is flying your plane to be stoned."

But certain left-leaning states such as Oregon and Colorado could be on their way to legalization, Newton said.

Margolin said he believes the government is wasting its time and money by prosecuting those who have marijuana.

"Money should be better spent on education than incarceration for people who have marijuana," he said.

Source: Daily Trojan (U of Southern CA Edu)
Copyright: 2007 Daily Trojan
Contact: Daily Trojan
Website: Daily Trojan
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