Pot is produced in California but not yet legal for recreational use. If legalization does come, the law will grapple with setting standards for how long users should wait before driving.
Unlike Washington and Colorado, California hasn't yet legalized recreational marijuana use. But the day is coming when a new ballot measure is put before voters, even though the most recent legalization proposition failed in 2010.
We seem to be headed for a world in which the American West is receptive to making pot legal. There are incentives for states to go down this road, including the ability to tax pot and avoid having to spend much enforcing anti-pot laws (in 2011, I wrote about the economics of legalizing pot).
But what should be done about pot users getting behind the wheel?
It's against the law to drive while impaired in California, regardless of the impairing substance — booze, pot, or other drugs. If you get arrested for driving while stoned, it's up to a blood or urine test to determine whether there's enough THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol, the stuff in cannabis that get users high) present to prosecute.
In this 2009 piece from Time magazine, Joe Klein provides some legalize-pot numbers:
there is an enormous potential windfall in the taxation of marijuana. It is estimated that pot is the largest cash crop in California, with annual revenues approaching $14 billion. A 10% pot tax would yield $1.4 billion in California alone. And that's probably a fraction of the revenues that would be available — and of the economic impact, with thousands of new jobs in agriculture, packaging, marketing and advertising. A veritable marijuana economic-stimulus package!
That Joe Klein! He's hilarious when he's high! Actually, his $1.4 billion tally for Cali may substantially underestimate how much making the wacky tabacky legal could bring in. Here's why:
- The Patt Morrison Show recently did a very popular segment on a RAND study that says crime actually goes UP in neighborhoods where marijuana dispensaries are shut down. More crime means more prosecutions, which cost money.
- Back in 2003, a Boston University economist took a look at the legalization economics in Massachusetts and figured savings from not having to continue criminal enforement at $120 million per year. He's now at Harvard.
- Fewer prosecutions means fewer sentences, which mean less incarceration. Each prisoner in the system costs California an average of $47,000 per year, according to the Legislative Analyst's Office
- There are some concerns that legalization would cause the price of pot to collapse. But that could just be a brief downturn, as marijuana finds a larger audience and, like other agricultural products, moves away from small-scale to industrial production. How big could that get? Altria, the company that owns Philip Morris, has a market cap of $54 billion.