Audren Tawaji: Measure W fails to learn from alcohol regulation
On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment repealing alcohol prohibition was ratified and the American people, drinkers and former prohibitionists such as John D. Rockefeller Jr. alike started the process of regulating the production, distribution and sale of alcohol.
During prohibition’s 14 years, an underground industry producing and distributing alcoholic beverages developed along with a sub-culture of bootleggers who hid on public lands to distill their product. Speakeasies that stayed open when they wanted and sold whatever they wanted to whomever they wanted without paying taxes were found throughout the country. The increased potency and, in turn, profit margin to volume of liquor led to liquor to being consumed more frequently than it was prior to the prohibition. The federal government spent an estimated $732.71 million a year on Prohibition enforcement and lost an estimated $15.7 billion in tax revenue from untaxed liquor. (Adjusted for inflation to present value.) David E. Kyvig (Autumn 1976). “Women against Prohibition.” American Quarterly 28 (4): 473.
Considering the parallels between alcohol prohibition and marijuana prohibition from the existence of a sophisticated black market to the wasted enforcement dollars and lost tax revenue, it follows that if we as a community believe that alcohol regulation was successful our marijuana regulations should be modeled after it.
Most agree that the regulation of alcohol is successful. Bars close when they are required, serve only alcohol of known purity and potency, sell only to adults, and pay taxes on the alcohol they sell all because the profit motive to enforce those rules in order to keep their licenses. The Napa Valley is generating an estimated $1.63 billion a year in tourist revenue because of its vineyards, according to the 2014 Napa Valley Visitor Industry Economic Impact Report and Visitor Profile. The subculture of bootlegging on public lands has been reduced to a passing History Channel curiosity. People’s preferences have shifted away from heavily intoxicating liquor to beer and wine and the government no longer spends countless dollars on enforcing prohibition while state and local alcoholic beverage tax revenues totaled $6.4 billion in 2012, according to the Tax Policy Center Urban Institute & Brookings Institution Alcohol Tax Revenue.
Alcohol regulation is successful because it gives the producers, distributors and retailers of alcohol a stake in the system through licensing. By banning commercial cannabis activities, Measure W fails to learn from the success of alcohol regulation by failing to creating a similar stake for producers, distributors and retailers of cannabis. A no vote on Measure W sends the message to the Nevada County Board of Supervisors that we expect them to learn from and apply the historically successful model of alcohol regulation to cannabis, rather then doubling down on the failed practices of prohibition.
Audren Tawaji is an attorney in Nevada County.
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