Politics & Other Mistakes: Buzz kill

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The Legislature is about to make something simple really complicated – which is what the Legislature does best.

Of course, that usually results in making things worse. Wrapping stuff in red tape may look festive (happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day), but it tends to render the gift nonfunctional. From the state Department of Health and Human Services (motto: Screw You) to campaign finance laws (some dissembling required) to liquor-pricing regulations (if you’re heading to New Hampshire, pick me up a couple bottles), lawmakers have a long history of imposing way more rules than necessary to accomplish what started out as something reasonably straightforward.

If only there were some way to gain relief from these counter-intuitive, counterproductive and stressful actions. Like, hmmm, smoking pot.

Once upon a time, enjoying a few hits off a doobie was uncomplicated. You found somebody with dope to sell. You paid a reasonable price. You took it home and kicked back. It was thoroughly illegal, but even the cops didn’t much care, and the slight possibility of arrest was more than offset by the lack of licenses, taxes and government-mandated warning labels (Do not ignite this substance while doused in gasoline).

But now marijuana is legal. Which shouldn’t, in and of itself, create a problem. Lots of legal items can be bought and sold without undue interference from the government. Like milk (health and safety inspections, price controls). Or fish (health and safety inspections, catch limits). Or fat-reduction surgery (health and safety inspections, medical licensing). Oddly enough, the one piece of lawful merchandise you can purchase with minimum bureaucratic hassle is a gun – assuming the background check doesn’t reveal you were once convicted of selling cannabis.

Under current state law, pot transactions are still not legal, a prohibition that won’t be lifted until next year when new regulations that don’t exactly exist yet go into effect. A draft bill developed by the Legislature’s Joint (ha!) Standing Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation will be considered at a special session in late October. This elite group worked many months to reach consensus on a measure that makes it more than likely you’ll still buy your grass from the same illegal source you’ve always used.

Consider these “improvements” the committee has developed:

Instead of paying a price based on how much the producer spent growing and processing the plant, you’ll pay for all that plus a 10 percent retail sales tax and a 10 percent wholesale excise tax. And you’ll be burdened with the expense of what the bill calls “a tracking system for adult use marijuana from immature plant to the point of retail sale, disposal or destruction, which must include a requirement that licensees purchase radio-frequency identification tags from (the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry) for the tracking of adult use marijuana and adult use marijuana products.”

The 70-page document also includes numerous license fees and assorted penalties, the cost of which will be passed on to the consumer. There are strict limits on the number of plants that can be grown for personal use on private property, lest that crop be diverted to the black market. There are also requirements for the “development and implementation of programs, initiatives and campaigns focused on increasing the awareness of and educating the public on health and safety matters relating to” blah, blah, blah (falls into a non-drug-induced stupor).

The proposed law bans home delivery of ganja, internet orders and drive-through operations, even though all of those exist in the current outlaw system. It also legitimizes marijuana social clubs, giving people whose parents won’t let them toke in the basement a place to enjoy their drug of choice. Except they won’t be able to inhale. State law prohibits smoking in bars, restaurants or social clubs, so such establishments would be limited to offering space for the use of pot edibles or tinctures, which sounds like loads of fun.

I’m not saying the committee members were high when they came up with this regulatory muddle. One look at this crew and you can tell that the closest most of them have ever been to a lighted joint was a Cheech and Chong movie. But they all have plenty of experience in developing complications, whether it’s imposing a surcharge on pet food, regulating the cultivation of water spinach or leaving a clearly unconstitutional ranked-choice voting system in place.

When it comes to messing things up, these people are not amateurs. They are – you’ll excuse the expression – dopes.

Take a deep breath, then email Al Diamon at aldiamon@herniahill.net.