David Hoppe

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:: ReLegalize it!

Tax and regulate marijuana

By David Hoppe

When the Indiana state legislature convened last week for its annual lawmaking session, the elected representatives were confronted by a state in the midst of fiscal freefall. State revenues have come in lower than projections for months, leading to unanticipated cuts to crucial government services. Combined cuts to K-12 and higher education, for example, have totaled almost a half billion dollars. If this weren't bad enough, the state's unemployment rate continues to hover around 10 percent.

This session's agenda will be dominated by efforts to hold on with limited resources. It's probably safe to say that changing the state's marijuana laws isn't exactly at the top of most legislators' to-do lists. Bill Levin thinks it should be.

Erstwhile rock and roll promoter, tattoo entrepreneur and longtime advocate for the reform of marijuana laws, Levin has a swashbuckling flair for guerilla theater that might have made the late Abbie Hoffman proud. Hoffman was a '60s radical and author of Steal This Urine Test, one of the best books about this country's misbegotten prohibition of cannabis. He never had a chance to give Facebook a try. Levin has embraced it.

In October, Levin posted what he terms a rant on Facebook, called ReLegalize Indiana. Like most Hoosiers, Levin has been appalled by the bad news besetting the state's economy. But Levin sees a practical solution, one based in the state's agricultural heritage. He points out that in the 1940s, Indiana was a leading producer of hemp in support of the nation's war effort. We know how to grow this stuff, he says, it's time to end the wrong-headed prohibition against cannabis and make it a cash crop again.

In little more than a couple of months, Levin's Facebook posting has drawn over 9,000 supporters. Levin and a few like-minded collaborators are in the process of turning ReLegalize Indiana into a Political Action Committee in order to lobby state legislators and back candidates in upcoming elections.

"Indiana is a farming state," Levin told me. "We should be growing hemp and using it for biomass fuel, we should be making fabric here, we should be making food out of it. But, because of archaic laws, we can't."

Levin wants ReLegalize Indiana to lead the way in breaking down long-held myths in official circles about pot so that the state can turn marijuana into a bankable asset. "The State of Indiana has been fighting this for so long, they don't have a clue on how to implement this. Their brains explode when they think about it. That's why we're coming in. We understand their dilemma. We want to help our state with honor and dignity to end prohibition and bring on a new age of growth, development, jobs for Hoosiers, pain medicine for the sick and ailing, and a newfound freedom."

Levin conducted an informal survey of Broad Ripple shops to see how many packs of rolling papers they sold in a week. Based on that figure, he guesses that about 50 pounds of pot go up in smoke in the Broad Ripple vicinity every seven days or so, meaning that, based on existing tax rates, the county and state could be raking in over $14 million a year from just one neighborhood. "This is where Indiana needs to lead the way," he says. "The amount it will increase our economy across the board is so great - we can put 18,000 people to work the first year."

Levin's case isn't being made in a vacuum. In California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, a new initiative called the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 has qualified for the California ballot in next year's election after garnering nearly 700,000 signatures of support. Under this Act, any adult over 21 will be allowed to possess, consume and cultivate a certain amount of cannabis; business involving pot will be left up to local jurisdictions.

California activists, who prefer to speak in terms of regulating and taxing rather than legalizing, are guardedly optimistic about what might happen next November. A poll in August showed 52 percent support by likely 2010 voters.

And then there's our northern neighbor, Michigan. In 2009, Michigan became the thirteenth state to make medical marijuana legal. The Michigan system is more difficult to navigate than, say, California, where all you need is a doctor's prescription to go to a dispensary. But Levin says that applications to grow and dispense medical marijuana represent the fastest growing part of Michigan's otherwise beleaguered business economy.

"I would much rather see our educational system get fixed; I would much rather see our police forces get more security gear; I'd like to see our firemen get what they need," says Levin. "This is an easy business to tax and run."

First, though, Indiana lawmakers are going to have to put aside the myths and disinformation that have been used to keep pot on the wrong side of the law. Levin believes the facts support ending prohibition. "The war is over: pot won."  

ReLegalize Indiana: relegalizeindianacampaign@gmail.com

Ning social network: http://relegalizeindiana.ning.com

Google Group: http://groups.google.com/group/relegalizeindiana