California's new gold rush

California's new gold rush

Is that smog or a THC haze covering Los Angeles?

California, as is often the case, was in the vanguard when it came to legalizing marijuana.

It did so years ago when legislators there passed a medical-marijuana bill that was so broad that virtually anyone could get a prescription for virtually anything. Following a statewide vote in November 2016, voters there made it official. Legal marijuana sales to the general public began with the new year.

In doing so, California became the sixth state to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use. It was preceded by Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Nevada.

If The New York Times is correct, Massachusetts and Maine will soon follow suit.

That, of course, raises the question: When will Illinois opt to join the rush to sanction the intoxicating rush that goes with legal inhalation of marijuana?

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, recently expressed the opinion that it's only a matter of time before state legislators approve legalization of sales of marijuana for recreational use. He is, for a variety of reasons, making a very safe prediction.

Recreational use of marijuana use in Illinois already is, for practical reasons, legal now.

Medical experts widely dispute claims that marijuana has unique healing properties. But that didn't stop advocates from persuading legislators that it's good for what ails a body.

Further, recreational use of marijuana has been decriminalized, the net effect being that this fine-only offense is an even lower priority for law enforcement now than it was before.

High-level dealers still face big trouble for selling it. But consumers need not worry too much about the legal dangers of smoking it, and that's mostly a good thing. There's no reason to clog the criminal-justice system with minor marijuana cases.

Outright legalization is a different issue altogether, but the direction there seems crystal clear — act at your own risk.

Why?

Well, public attitudes have changed. The baby boomer generation, now known as the establishment, wants this pacifier to come without restrictions other than price.

More important, revenue-hungry legislators mistakenly consider marijuana to be a lifesaver from a tax standpoint. Indeed, they've already loaded such high taxes on the drug that it's cheaper in some jurisdictions for consumers to continue to make their purchases from the underground market.

There's definitely money in taxing marijuana, even big money. But it's not nearly enough to bail out financially dysfunctional state and local governments.

Take Illinois.

All the Democratic candidates for governor but one, Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, have embraced marijuana legalization as a campaign position. J.B. Pritzker, the Democratic front-runner, estimates that, if elected in November, he'll have up to $700 million annually in additional revenue to spend on state programs once Illinois gets with the program.

There are, of course, unmentioned caveats that go with those kind of sunny forecasts, most particularly the social costs attached to increased use.

Traffic deaths related to marijuana consumption more than doubled in Colorado between 2013 and 2016. That statistic barely scratches the surface of potential problems generated by the introduction of an additional intoxicant into the body politic.

But serious second thoughts will have to come later. The direction the nation is taking could not be more clear.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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