Opinion Columns & Blogs

Government: Up in smoke...

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has moved on from his last project (making government more accessible through social media) to his next: serving on an ACLU panel studying the legalization of marijuana in California.

In fact, he isn’t really studying it, exactly: he flat-out advocates legalization, period.

I know what the pro-arguments are, and, from a law enforcement point of view, they make some sense. These pot cases clog up the courts and the jails, waste a lot of police time, and make otherwise sensible, law-abiding citizens sneak around and break the law. If a yuppie stoner with less than a quarter ounce of pot gets “busted,” it’s a rather minor inconvenience. If you are some dealer growing the stuff in your basement or out in the woods, well, dude, you are looking at some serious jail time.

If you are a politician, few people now care if you smoked marijuana in the past, or that youe had sex before marriage (or during it, to women other than your wife), Newsom may be right: legalize it.

The subtext, however, is that people in government like Newsom and many others is that they see legalization as something other than a civil liberties issue: they see it as another source of tax revenue.


More money for government to spend.

Of course, the theoretical offset of not spending all that money on police and jails may make some sense, but it has always fascinated me that people in politics always figure out new ways to extract money from us. I am not anti-government, I am not libertarian, really, but I do find this a curious phenomenon.

So, I propose a far better, more equitable plan, in the manner of Jonathan Swift:

Give pot away, or nearly so.

It would show government doesn’t have its hand out. It would reduce the cops ‘n’ courts merry-go-round. It would say that we’ve grown up as a society. Right?

The government practically gives marijuana away in Uruguay. You have to be a resident, but it costs a pittance to buy it, and no one is making much money on the deal. Since Newsom and many others say pot is safe, then who cares, right? No harm, no foul.

Then I have another proposal: double alcohol taxes. Or quintuple them.

Specifically, wine. Raise the minimum price of a bottle of wine to whatever it costs to buy a quarter ounce of weed. After all, I can contruct a strong argument that alcohol is much worse for one’s health than marijuana. As someone who grew up in an alcoholic family, I can assure you that no one can write me a check for what emotional damage alcohol did to me or millions of other Americans.

See how that wine tax would fly out there in the electorate.

I guess that the Lt. Governor, who also happens to have made several million dollars making and serving wine, might find that modest proposal a bit much.

In my own case, I am not a teetotaler. I see alcohol used responsibly. I see pot used responsibly. I see a lot of things you can drink and injest used responsibly. But our society, and, specifically, government, picks winners and losers. I am still not sure why.

Why, for example, is one asked to pay ten dollars for a pack of cigarettes? Why can’t there be indoor smoking bars, where everyone knows what the deal is? Why is it okay for a Lt. Governor to advocate the consumption of one kind of carcinogenic smoke over another? I wonder if Gavin Newsom had a child in his life who smoked pot and didn’t get a lot of things accomplished because that child did that? Indeed, a stoned child in your life is neither amusing nor cute. It’s not a Cheech and Chong movie. They’re failing classes and eating too much. Some of them drink wine, too, and smash their cars into light poles. They’re out there, people, and we all have stories. If you’re lucky, they survive their mistakes.

So, call me confused. No cigarettes, but government also wants and needs the revenue from them like a nicotine fix. So, yes to cigarettes, kind of, in an intellectually dishonest way. You can have all the wine you want, and any other kind of booze for that matter. And, just maybe, soon you can have all the pot you want. Oh, but watch out for e-cigarettes, too, even though they have no smoke or carcinogens. They’ll come for those next. And, please don’t forget fattening foods and soda. Those are bad, too.

I was once on a airport shuttle bus coming home from the 1996 Democratic convention in Atlanta. A very well-dressed man was sitting across from me. We exchanged pleasantries. He asked me what I did. I told him. I asked him what he did. He told me.

“I’m a lobbyist for Philip Morris.”

I said, “Wow (not the precise Anglo-Saxon rejoinder I actually said). How can you do that for a living?”

He smiled faintly.

Then he said, “You people don’t get it. If it wasn’t for us, Social Security would be bankrupt.”

He said in a way that made me feel like perhaps there may also be people in government who felt the same way. You know, people who could be influenced by lobbyists at a political convention.

Maybe someone, in a non-ideological manner, can explain how society, and, by extention, government, arrives at these choices about our bad habits and addictions.

But I doubt it.

If you can, you’ve been smoking something.