In 1996, I met Dennis Peron, the face of Proposition 215, California’s medical marijuana initiative, at the Health and Harmony Fair at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Over the next few weeks, I visited his marijuana club on Market Street in San Francisco, met users and medical researchers and even discovered a farm in Oxford, Miss. – home of William Faulkner – that supplies marijuana to federally authorized users, including a half-dozen people who smoke pot for medical reasons.
I was persuaded that there’s medical potential in cannabis, and I still am. I’ve also written blogs and editorials critical of various aspects of California’s medical marijuana law – because this is either the least healthy place in the world or Proposition 215 is just a cover for recreational use. No need to guess where I come down on that one.
So here’s my latest screed … Sunday’s paper featured an article about the closure of the state’s oldest dispensary, the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. According to the article, the pot club was one of the 10 top sources of sales tax revenue for the city of Fairfax. Sales tax revenue? I thought it was medicine. California doesn’t tax medicine.
So what’s with taxing pot? For cities and counties, it’s cash, of course. For the dealers, er, pharmacists, it has a faint odor of the Prohibition era. Before income taxes, the federal government was largely financed by taxes on alcohol. And brewers and distillers were all for it. With the government hooked on alcohol taxes, the temperance movement linked up with income tax advocates to pass the Sixteenth Amendment. For a compelling history and some interesting parallels with the marijuana movement, read Daniel Okrent’s “Last Call.”
– Jim Sweeney