Sunday, November 21, 2010

Alcohol Tax Increase/Marijuana Legalization Beat

Throughout the quarter I have conducted an ongoing comparison between a potential alcohol tax increase vs. the legalization of marijuana. I found it peculiar how a tax increase positively effects and applies to more people compared to marijuana legalization, yet marijuana legalization gets more attention. 

On one of my first blogs, I posted statistics that showed all the positive effects that ensued from a tax increase. I cited the 1983 Alaska four to six cent increase on bottles of beer. That two-cent increase resulted in less consumption, which led to a 29 percent drop among alcohol related deaths. Aside from the health benefits, studies indicate that a tax increase would save each state millions in healthcare while generating millions in revenues.

Marijuana being legalized is relevant to a portion of the population, and it does accommodate people with specific health needs, but it isn’t relevant to as much people as alcohol. This left me both dumbfounded and curious about what goes into a decision to enact or abolish policies. As a result, I pursued Michael A. Katz, the Assistant Director of Student Life at the University of Denver. Katz has a large say in what policies get enacted and abolished at DU. He declined to be interviewed while being filmed because of time constraints. However, he acknowledged that DU, like most other communities tries to have the highest level of citizenship and community standards. “We want a welcoming and safe environment while also providing a area were students can thrive.” He declined to comment about why a tax increase gets less attention than marijuana, his rational being that he wasn’t knowledgeable enough to provide an informative answer. We spoke about the recent rule to abolish
smoking on campus. Student Life was in a dilemma about this issue, they had to choose between taking away the students federal right to smoke and maintaining a welcoming environment. Ultimately they decided to abolish smoking in order to make the university look good.

Although their completely different issues, I can draw some conclusions between the smoking ban on campus and the tax increase vs. marijuana legalization. Abolishing smoking undoubtedly pissed off smokers the same way raising taxes will upset alcohol consumers, but despite any indifference people may have with the rules/laws, they undoubtedly benefit the public’s best health interest. Also, by abolishing smoking, the school looks better to the external eye, which in turn generates more revenue for the university. No sane parent wouldn’t allow their child to attend a school because it’s a smoke free campus. However, that same sane parent might be reluctant to send his or her kid to a pro smoking campus. Mind you one kid makes a difference; $45,000 yearly tuition. That same concept can be applied to alumni’s. A non-smoking alumnus with a heavy pocket is less likely to donate money towards the university if he or she catches a whiff of cigarette smoke by a student who is walking to or from class. Contrasting from that, a smoking alumni with a heavy pocket is unlikely to not donate money if that same student walks by, but without a cigarette. DU financially benefited from the smoking ban just as the government would if a tax increase is enacted.

After confronting one campus security officer, I realized that I might not get anything besides a ‘no comment’, led alone an interview. However, through persistency and multiple rejections I came across one anonymous officer who let me explain my topic and then ask how a potential marijuana legalization and tax increase may affect their job. “It wouldn’t, DU is a smoke free campus and most of the students living on campus are under age,” she said. Joint or cigarette, it doesn’t matter, either way campus security is obligated to act upon any person roaming the campus who is smoking or engaging in under age drinking.

Following my first interview with Mikah Johnson, an employee from the Serenity Moon Dispensary, I came to the realization that you can’t compare marijuana legalization to a tax increase because unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana is not a ‘sin tax’. I tried to schedule an interview with the manager of serenity moon, but she was unavailable. Instead, I conducted a follow up interview with Johnson. Johnson has a boatload of knowledge in relation to marijuana. He reiterated from the last interview how people are against marijuana for the wrong reasons, such as cultural stereotypes and business. However, he took it a step further this time by elaborating about what the right or wrong reasons were. Ironically, Johnson is hesitant and skeptical about a potential legalization. He’s concerned that if marijuana is to be legalized, it will be regulated and produced in order to turn a profit, instead of accommodating people with legitimate health needs. He thinks a non-profit private organization should control the production process, that way money wont effect production

In my first interview with Johnson, he explained that people are against marijuana being legalized because of what culture its associated with (hippie, sex & drugs, rock ‘n roll), but he thinks through health accommodation and appropriate advertising, people will begin to disaffiliate dispensaries from culture. A key issue working against a culture disaffiliation is marijuana being sold on the streets, which dictates the prices in dispensaries. As long as street prices continue to dictate dispensary prices, it will be difficult to disaffiliate the cultures. Johnson uses stem cell research as a metaphor in relation to dispensaries. “Stem cell research was widely unaccepted in the 90’s because people equated it with embryo and abortion blah ba blah ba blah, but for the last decade any conservative person who’s had anybody with cancer or leukemia or whatever died who needed stem cell therapy um changed their mind.” He is making the case that like stem cell research, dispensaries have a positive effect, but they need to disassociate from cultures the same way stem cell research disassociated from abortion.

Through research and conducting interviews, my outlook toward my topic has slightly altered. I still believe a tax increase is being over looked and most people don’t realize the amount of positive effects it can have on society. However, my outlook on marijuana has changed substantially. I now realize it was na├»ve and ignorant to compare alcohol to marijuana. I did little research on the subject before deciding it would be what I would compare the tax increase to. Who am I to decide what issue is more important than others? The marijuana community has a legitimate cause and their trying to transform their image to help people, all the power to them. I’m not telling the government how to prioritize public issues, however an alcohol tax increase needs to be getting more attention than it is.

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