New CA pot analysis sees savings, raises questions

marijuana-leafAccording to one respected source in Sacramento, pot is good for California’s bottom line.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office, which produces nonpartisan studies of ballot initiatives, has unveiled a new report considering the fiscal impact of marijuana decriminalization in the Golden State. Although partly mixed, its conclusion offered the possibility of a fresh line of argument in favor of freer pot laws.

“The report says California could add millions of dollars to state coffers if it legalized marijuana by reducing the number of marijuana offenders in prisons and jails, reducing probation supervision costs, reducing criminal court cases, and increased sales-tax revenue,” according to CBS Sacramento.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office did warn, however, that legalization would likely incur substantial trade-offs  that were harder to quantify or predict. The study, CBS noted, “could bring unexpected costs, with a potential increase in state-funded rehabilitation programs.”

Spiking support

The findings came at a potentially significant time in the run-up to activists’ push for statewide legalization in 2016. Public opinion has made a sustained shift toward support for such a measure, as the most recent round of polling from the Public Policy Institute of California underscored. “A record-high 54 percent of residents favor legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent are opposed,” PPIC reported.

The PPIC results proved notable for several reasons. Traditionally, restricting polling to likely voters results in a more conservative outlook. But in this case, the situation was reversed. “Among California likely voters, 56 percent favor legalization and 41 percent are opposed,” PPIC observed.

Although Republicans tend to oppose looser drug laws more than Democrats, California Democrats’ traditional strength among minority voters has not translated directly into more substantial support among those groups for marijuana legalization. “A majority of whites (60 percent) favor legalization,” said PPIC, “while a similar proportion of Latinos (60 percent) oppose it.”

Economic arguments

The legislative analyst’s report also promised to feed into broader economic arguments now being made by legal marijuana advocates. Already, some 100,000 California residents have found work in the medical marijuana industry, California Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Nate Bradley told ABC Sacramento.

Reflecting a growing perception that the industry was here to stay, a new piece of legislation designed to bring order to the industry has attracted bipartisan support — with police and labor lining up behind the bill. “Assembly Bill 266 would create what’s called a dual-licensure system, with cannabis entrepreneurs needing to secure permits both from local authorities and from one of a few state agencies,” according to the Sacramento Bee. “The Department of Public Health would oversee testing, the Department of Food and Agriculture would deal with cultivation and the Board of Equalization would handle sales and transportation — all under the auspices of a new Governor’s Office of Marijuana Regulation.”

At the same time, it would mandate that businesses employing 20 or more persons must establish a so-called “labor peace agreement,” while allowing municipal officials some discretion in curbing medical pot.

For pot advocates, the sudden alignment of interest groups indicated an upcoming boom time for the marijuana business. Activists such as Bradley haven’t hesitated to build that prediction into their case for a legalization vote. “With recreational marijuana expected to go on the ballot in 2016, the industry is primed for rapid expansion,” ABC Sacramento continued. “Bradley said the market could produce as many as 1 million jobs in eight years.”

“As the cannabis market matures, it’s beginning to see more innovation, creating jobs that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. Nestdrop, a Los Angeles-based startup, has a smartphone app facilitating medical marijuana orders and deliveries between patients and dispensaries. Since its launch in late April, the company has gained roughly 30,000 users in cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Stockton and Pasadena, as well as areas like Orange County.”

As pro-pot forces have increased their legitimacy, Californians have also grown more skeptical toward excessive policing of marijuana businesses. Most recently, Santa Ana cops who raided an allegedly unlicensed dispensary were caught on videotape ridiculing a disabled volunteer working at the shop. One officer could be seen eating something from a countertop — alleged by the volunteer’s lawyer to be a marijuana edible.

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