SIMMONS: Wind shifting on marijuana debate, but outcome still hazy

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Find a corner, pull out a joint and fasten your seat belts. The battle of the potheads is on, and from the looks of things, it’s going to be a bumpy coast-to-coast ride.

After legalizing medical marijuana, D.C. residents are entertaining the idea of decriminalizing pot, period.

Meanwhile, the first states to legalize marijuana, Colorado and Washington, are also puffing away on proposals that would tax and regulate the drug for recreational use among adults 21 and older.

Plop into a papasan chair and, as Rick James famously sang, “pass the joint.”

That seems to be what Americans are saying, according to a Gallup poll released last week that proclaims that “for the first time, Americans favor legalizing marijuana.”

A “clear majority of Americans (58 percent) say the drug should be legalized,” Gallup said. “This is in sharp contrast to the time Gallup first asked the question in 1969, when only 12 percent favored legalization.”

The smoke has certainly cleared since the 1960s, and now, with far more than a whiff of support since, the battle is among the potheads.

More than a dozen states already have marijuana decriminalization laws on the books. On the East Coast, for example, Vermont just this year adopted laws that level a $200 fine for possession up to an ounce and categorize the offense as a civil infraction. In the Southwest, Nevada has a 12-year-old law that classifies possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor on first offense. Violators in Nevada also can be fined up to $600.

Indeed, the potheads are battling one another, with many pot supporters simply urging a gateway to legalization via decriminalization, as D.C. officials are planning, while others are calling for full-scale legalization and taxation.

Lawmakers and residents in the states of Colorado and Washington are seeking the latter.

In Washington, pro-pot voters have said yes to a measure that includes a taxing component, and right now they are merely debating how high taxes should be. The bottom line: The new revenue would support regulatory and enforcement affairs, as well as education.

And, quite interestingly, Grover Norquist, founding president of Americans for Tax Reform, has given his thumbs-up to taxing marijuana, telling National Journal that legalizing and taxing cannabis would not be “a tax increase.”

“It’s legalizing an activity and having the traditional tax applied to it,” Mr. Norquist said.

That, of course, is worthy of a sober debate.

What’s more is that the battle of the potheads also includes past, current and future advocates who oppose such taxation.

For one, Denver lawyer Rob Corry has thrown joint giveaways and said that high taxes, like the munchies, can create a negative effect as well as a “gray market” that will discourage legal pot use.

Regardless of whether you reside in the Pacific Northwest or New England, or anywhere in between, an adolescent offered a few sobering words regarding this battle of the potheads.

“Marijuana is a very popular drug in my neighborhood and neighborhoods like mine,” 10-year-old LaDaveon Butler testified at a D.C. Council hearing, asking lawmakers to keep pot illegal.

“Sometimes,” LaDaveon said, “I can’t even go outside and play on our playground because teenagers are smoking weed out there.”

His point of view about current tokers definitely passes the most important smell test of all.

We know that once state and local governments get hooked on new tax dollars from pot sales, addiction will surely lead to tax increases and more disappointment for the LaDaveons who live in neighborhoods all across America.

And, just as an aside, imagine the cost of rolling papers, bongs and pipes, and tobacco, once possession and use of marijuana become legal.

Sky high.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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