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NEVADA CITY, Calif. September 30, 2016 – In California, as it has been elsewhere, money is a driving force behind legalization of recreational marijuana. Colorado’s sales were a potent lesson; more than $996 million in 2015 with $135 million in marijuana taxes and fees going to various governments in that state. Legal marijuana has enriched Colorado schools by more than $35 million. California governments and businesses are hoping for a similar outcome.

While taxation and commerce probably will profit from California’s almost certain legalization of marijuana, law enforcement budgets will take a hit. The feds have been streaming money down through state programs to combat the green menace for years. Look for that to end.

Retiring Nevada County District Attorney Mike Ferguson said a few years back that the war on marijuana had been a waste. Methamphetamine, he said, was the real drug menace, responsible for most domestic abuse crimes in Nevada County, and for most burglaries.

For decades local law enforcement was fed the story that marijuana was evil, a gateway drug. Now they are being faced with long lines of disturbed parents at public meetings, all claiming that marijuana has helped their suffering children where traditional medicine could not. A silent, yet unheard from line waits to proclaim the business benefits of the end of marijuana prohibition.

Various law enforcement agencies at the local and county level in California are looking at big cutbacks in “crime” funding when marijuana becomes legal. Just how much will be slipped out of their pockets is hard to tell.

A good portion of those funds are a bounce-back of local seizures from growers.

“One year you may have a major case where you seize assets equal to about $400,000. The next year you may seize $10,000,” Nevada County Sheriff Keith Royal said in an earlier interview. “We don’t receive a great deal of money and what we do with that money is we put it back into drug enforcement.” What portion of his budget is currently devoted to marijuana law enforcement, both medical and illegal? “It’s hard to break that down,” he answered, doing the IHop shuffle – waffling.

With legalization will come a major realignment of law enforcement goals and economic abilities. “If the nation were to decriminalize, there is no value, anybody could grow it in their garden, and the cartels would go away,” Royal said. As would a significant portion of his budget.

Editor’s note: The Mountain Messenger, California’s oldest weekly newspaper since 1853, is published on Thursdays from Downieville, California.

The Mountain Messenger can be purchased for half a buck at the National Hotel (sidewalk), Nevada City SPD (outside), Nevada City Express Mart (outside) and in front of Safeway, Brunswick area.