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A Law Worth Copying

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hwarzenegger signed an emergency bill early last month that got little notice here on the far North Coast. It fixed – in a hurry – the state law governing home winemaking. Someone discovered that the law as written actually was ridiculous: It prohibited competitions like many county fairs have held for decades because legally homemade wine could not legally be transported off your property to be judged. Nor could you share your product with friends; only immediate family members could imbibe. Of course those parts of the law were widely ignored and once discovered, the law was amended – especially since the popular California State Fair home-winemaking competition was about to begin.

I mention this law because it may be one to copy when and if we legalize and regulate marijuana.

First, let’s review what’s wrong with current marijuana laws:

  1. The laws are widely ignored. If a law makes so many otherwise law-abiding citizens criminals, there might just be something wrong with the law. (Think prohibition.)

  2. The laws make a bunch of liars out of our friends and neighbors. Most medical marijuana card-holders are not telling the truth. They want a 215 card because they like to use marijuana as a recreational drug and they don’t want to be arrested.

  3. The laws turn otherwise law-abiding doctors into co-conspirators. There are a few physicians, no doubt, who write prescriptions for 215 cards purely for money, but the majority likely do it because they are learned, informed men and women who know marijuana is not the bogeyman gateway drug some claim and that it is infinitely less harmful to our society’s health than, say, tobacco. They know that some ill people get some relief, but even if they don’t, the drug is not unlike anxiety-lowering Xanax.

  4. The laws are a colossal waste of our law enforcement dollars. Do you think most cops want to be out there enforcing a bunch of fuzzy pot rules when they should be targeting drunk-drivers, breaking up a few more domestic disputes, or going after serious drugs like meth and heroin?

  5. The laws waste the resources for courts, jails and prisons.

  6. The laws spawn grow houses. We have a housing shortage and we are turning perfectly good domiciles into mold-infested sweat boxes where neighbors are subjected to criminal comings and goings at all hours.

  7. The laws block meaningful dialogue with our children. First, they add the false glamor of forbidden fruit — and we should keep that list as short as possible. Second, if marijuana were a controlled substance, we could have those honest discussions with children we need to have, like we do about tobacco and alcohol – not the ones we have about crack and heroin.

  8. The laws result in an industry that does not pay taxes. Please don’t bother to e-mail me about how you pay sales tax on your new car or property taxes on your home and land, or how you use your commercial drug profits to support the non-profit of your choice or your own kid’s school. Those are your choices. The rest of us have to pay real (not voluntary) taxes on our income and so should you.

The 21st Amendment to the Constitution repealed the 18th Amendment prohibiting the production of alcohol. But it also did something else: It allowed states and local governments to prohibit it instead. If we had such a federal framework, each state could begin to separate marijuana from other much more menacing drugs and use resources to spend on serious societal issues. I am not the only one who was flabbergasted that the feds spent two years of investigation time and sent 450 agents – 450! – to Humboldt County for a week to bust what looks like some rejects from the gang that can’t shoot straight. (I may be wrong here, since we haven’t seen the indictments. Could we yet snag an Al Capone, a rapist or ax murderer?)

The federal and state alcohol laws are very, very generous. You can make 200 gallons of wine per year (or home-brewed beer) per household for consumption by you, your family and friends. The beauty of the law is that you can’t sell it. If you do, the law will come after you. I don’t know of a single home-brewer or winemaker who is selling. I don’t know a single one who is profiting from their hobby either.

If we allowed a household consumption limit of, say, five plants, would that be generous enough? OK, how about seven? (Apartment-dwellers, it’s inconvenient to brew beer if you don’t have a garage, but not impossible.)

The hurdles, of course, are many. Federal and state laws would have to be changed and, realistically, a politician willing to risk reelection for such a cause doesn’t exist. Then there is the true medical question, an easy one. Let’s just accept the volume of anecdotal evidence that says marijuana gives relief to some people for pain and nausea. If you have ever been a caregiver to a terminally ill cancer patient — and I have – I say, why the hell not? Let the feds contract with a competent grower. Finally, if we ever classify marijuana as a controlled substance for recreational use, we could then set up a heavily regulated and taxed commercial industry that is similar to tobacco.

What would happen next? Would the sky fall?

I doubt it. Supply goes way up, demand shrinks, public resources are redirected, jail space vacated, the commercial grow industry and its criminals disappear and, just maybe, a nice family moves in next door instead of that vacant house with the moldy curtains.

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