‘Liberty’ Is Now A Dirty Word In California - Printable Version
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‘Liberty’ Is Now A Dirty Word In California - h3rm35 - 03-17-2010 11:40 PM
‘Liberty’ Is Now A Dirty Word In California
By ETHAN EPSTEIN
Capitol Building in Sacramento
Image via Wikipedia
To some, it may seem ironic – if not outright incoherent – that California is now seriously considering legalizing recreational marijuana use. (An issue I’ve previously discussed here and here.) After all, for decades, the Golden State has been at the forefront of the movement to Stamp Out Things That People Actually Enjoy: it has declared war on cigarette smoking (and cigarette smokers), trans fats, lap dances, “gas-guzzling” cars – and now even “gas guzzling” televisions. At this point, it’s suprising that sunshine and surfing are still legal.
Despite all of this, a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana use will likely appear on the California ballot in November. Working in tandem, legislation to legalize pot has passed a state assembly committee in Sacramento. These developments may seem at first blush to represent a repudiation of California’s undying impulse to regulate. Lamentably, however, this could not be further from the truth. For, paradoxically, the move to legalize marijuana is being promoted not as way to increase freedom, but as a method to grow the regulatory and tax-collecting powers of the state. In other words, the move to legalize marijuana represents an attempt to limit freedom, not increase it.
Consider, first, the name of the organization spearheading the effort to pass the referendum: ‘Tax and Regulate Cannabis California’. That is, rather than promote the legalization of marijuana as a means of expanding individual liberty – and individual responsibility – the effort is being sold as a way to increase the tax-collecting and regulatory powers of Sacramento. The mission statement of the organization lays out this motive even more explicitly: the initiative’s supporters proclaim they want the state to “regulate cannabis like alcohol,” “give local governments the ability to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis,” and “generate billions of dollars in revenue.” Nary a word about freedom or liberty appears on the website of the organization.
Not surprisingly, the Solons of Sacramento have displayed similar inclinations. Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, who introduced the bill to legalize pot, entitled it, “the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act.” Again, then, we see legalization being promoted as a way to increase the state’s “control.” What’s more, while promoting the bill at a San Francisco press conference, Ammiano boasted that, “this legislation would generate much-needed revenue for the state.” The state’s board of equalization has agreed with Ammiano: it estimates that the legislation would generate $1.34 billion annually in sales and excise tax revenue. It’s little wonder, then, that a state as addicted to tax revenues as California would eye marijuana regulation and taxation so greedily.
The rhetoric surrounding marijuana legalization demonstrates the deep hostility to liberty that is latent in California. When an action like legalizing marijuana – which could potentially increase personal freedom and autonomy – is being promoted as little more than a tax-generation plan, it is clear that something has gone fundamentally wrong. Even more disturbing is that the “tax” and “regulate” argument is not only coming from politicians – it is the argument of the “grass-roots” citizen group promoting the initiative as well. This tells you all you need to know about the degraded state of liberty in America’s most populous state. Moreover, the fact that the “tax and regulate” argument is the one that is being put to the public goes to show that California voters have come to welcome the notion of an ever-expanding state. It came as little surprise earlier this year, when, in federal court, the case for overturning Proposition 8 and legalizing gay marriage was made on the grounds of the tax revenues that gay marriage could potentially generate.
The weather may still be nice in California – but the climate for liberty has never been worse.
And on a personal note – that’s one of the reasons that I’ve left the state. I’ve returned joyously to my former home of Portland, Oregon, and will be based there for the forseeable future. It’s good to be home.
RE: ‘Liberty’ Is Now A Dirty Word In California - Hans Olo - 03-18-2010 01:07 PM
Epstein is right. Legalization of Marijuana should be about the right to choose, not about "taxing and regulating".