NEW YORK -- On a day when people were congregating nationwide to protest high taxes and perceived government overspending, one small, unusually mellow crowd gathered at Manhattan's General Post Office at around 4:20 p.m. to protest the protest. Two-dozen protestors held aloft signs that said things like "Please tax me," chanted "Who wants to pay taxes? WE DO!" and jokingly presented the U.S. Treasury with a giant check, for $14 billion, made out on behalf of America's roughly 25 million pot smokers.
"You can call it a 'natural' grassroots movement, as opposed to astroturf," High Times magazine's Senior Editor David Bienenstock joked to Salon, referring to allegations that the tax-day tea parties have been hijacked by Fox News, the GOP and corporate lobbyists. "We are the rational and mature ones, unlike the others out in fantasy land today. We're out here to represent constituents that are eager to pay taxes. All we want is to be able to smoke our pot in peace."
Jointly organized by High Times magazine and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the event was staged to raise awareness for the "tax and regulate" approach to marijuana decriminalization. Advocates of the approach argue that it would not only greatly ease the financial demands of the U.S. government's "War on Drugs" but also provide a substantial source of tax revenue. They point to a study done by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, "The Budgetary Implications of Marijuana Prohibition," which estimates that "tax and regulate" could save up to $7.7 billion in enforcement expenditures and raise $6.2 billion in revenues, if the drug were taxed like alcohol and tobacco. Hence, the $14 billion check to the U.S. Treasury, which Bienenstock and NORML Executive Director Allen St. Pierre maintain is a conservative estimate.
St. Pierre thinks the timing is right. Aside from a "certain degree of cultural zetigeist," as he put it, the financial crisis is a unique opportunity to push the economic advantages of decriminalization. Said Bienenstock, "This is the most exciting time. It's a friendlier situation for us. We have an economic situation that makes change more feasible. It took the Great Depression to end alcohol prohibition. That's the situation we feel we're in now. We're here to show that $14 billion is a lot of money."
After the Post Office event, Bienenstock, St. Pierre and their small group of supporters were to head to City Hall to pirate some of the official NYC tea party's publicity. Bienenstock mused, "I suspect we will create a bit of a split in the crowd. We will put the pot-smoking libertarians in a very weird place."