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The latest reports show that by 2006, California will have a "strucured defecit" of about 8 billion dollars. That's a huge number, especially considering that the state currently has no way to recover the money even if things go well between now and then. Essentially, the figure is an optimistic outlook at the disparity between the programs people want and the money they're willing to spend on them. Not very pretty, if you ask me.

So where do we collectively dig up 8 billion dollars? All the traditional sources of revenue are, essentially, tapped out with no more grow room to make up the difference and keep up with inflation at the same time. In essense, we have to come up with new ways to make money or else we're doomed to an ongoing battle over what resources we actually do have in the treasury. But if we really want to solidify our commitment to providing a better life for people in California, there's one solution that nobody has yet to offer: regulation of that outlaw plant we keep fighting with the DEA over. Legalizing and regulating marijuana use could, theoretically, provide as much income to the state as cigarette or alcohol taxes annually bring in (currently $115m for cigarettes and $294m for alcohol) and contribute substantially to reducing the stagnant debt load. Even if marijuana remained legal for medicinal use only, revenue generated from licensing and taxation could still provide a crucial boost to the state's income. And here is where the boys and girls in Sacramento have really dropped the ball.

With a little foresight, California's treatment of the marijuana factor could be a serious business for the state. Imagine a state-run farming co-operative to control the distribution. Imagine an arrangement with the DEA that forbids them from raiding people's homes while granting them the authority to deal with anyone who tries to get out of the state with a fat sack of weed. Imagine a sate bureaucracy that issues permits for the sale and growth of marijuana, so that operations out of our control would still be under watch. And with some careful planning, it would all be, at least technically, legal.

Every time the DEA trots into someone's backyard in San Francisco to destroy 6 measly plants, they claim that they're only doing their job of enforcing a federal law. This is where the grey area begins: said law only applies (or should apply, technically) to interstate trade. Though it happens quite often, the Feddies can't simply break down your door and destroy the lone pot plant growing in your backyard for your own personal use. The laws just don't support their claims of jurisdiction because nobody's shipping that pot to Arizona, are they? So make John ASScroft's boys in blue a deal: they can have the airports, borders and bus terminals to do whatever they damn well please in the "war on drugs," but leave the rest to the state for regulation.

Want a real boost to your income, Arnold? Do what Amsterdam is doing now (and what England is currently moving towards doing as well). Instead of spending billions to fight against a drug that has been clinically proven to be less harmfull and less addictive than both alcohol and cigarettes, put it in the same class and tax the bloody hell out of it. Sell it in a state licensed shop or café, and kindly instruct the proprietors to cut their patrons off when they've had too much. Police costs will go down and revenues will go up. Plus, you'll have the added benefit of clearing out all those prison cells being used by pot smokers who got caught.

Of course there are woes about trafficking, which is why the DEA should focus their energy on beefing up border and airport security instead of bullying AIDS and cancer patients. Hell, give them a piece of the pot tax pie to cover some of the costs of inspecting everyone's trunk when they drive into Arizona or Nevada or Oregon. Give them a few tools to do that job with, and make it clear what their place is and what it is not.

Put an even bigger piece of that pie into educating the public on marijuana's proven effects and consequences instead of the same old lies Hearst was printing to support the timber industry in the early part of the 20th century. Talk about its benefits, but make clear its known side effects, too. Just stop with the half-truths already because anyone with a brain can go online and find plenty of factual information for themselves. There's just no sense in making foolish ads to scare people for the wrong reasons. Make no mistake, it's a drug that has both users and abusers, and abuse of any substance should be discouraged with the same tenacity and tact that we use to discourage kids from smoking cigarettes.

It may be a pipe dream, but it's also a workable solution in a better world where our nation isn't under the iron grip of a radical and narrow-minded conservative government.

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