Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says it's time California had an open, honest conversation about marijuana policy, but apparently that's too scary for some local TV stations in the state.

 

Earlier this month, MPP produced a 30-second TV ad featuring Fair Oaks resident Nadene Herndon talking directly to the camera, saying:

 

"We're marijuana consumers. Instead of being treated like criminals for using a safe substance, we want to pay our fair share. Taxes from California's marijuana industry could pay the salaries of 20,000 teachers. Isn’t it time?"

 

Inflammatory stuff, right? We didn’t think so, but apparently it was too much for the tender sensibilities of the station managers at KABC, KCOP, KNBC, KTLA and KTTV in Los Angeles, as well as a couple in San Francisco, all of whom refused to air the ad.

 

Aside from one station manager telling us our ad advocated marijuana use (and I suppose he considers a tax form 1040EZ paraphernalia?), the stations refused to explain their reasoning. Perhaps they were concerned that hearing a middle aged woman ask to pay a sales tax on marijuana would upset their viewers so much that they wouldn't be able to enjoy their cop show about a child sex slave ring. Or their reality show in which one young woman beats another with her high-heeled shoe. Or any of the other wholesome stuff you and your kids see during primetime.

 

But I shouldn't complain. The ad got more attention than we anticipated, in part because of the controversy created by the short-sighted station execs. Better yet, the ad wound up being featured on the local news programs of many of the same stations that rejected it. Thanks for the free airtime, guys.

 

But station honchos certainly don't have a monopoly on hypocrisy when it comes to discussing marijuana policy. Drug czar Gil "Well At Least He Isn't John Walters" Kerlikowske reminded us of that last week when he told reporters in Fresno that "[l]egalization is not in the president's vocabulary, and it's not in mine." Boy this open, honest discussion about marijuana policy just gets trickier and trickier, doesn't it?

 

Meanwhile, in the real world, California faces serious financial trouble.

 

It seems there's no way for the state to avoid drastic cuts in education and healthcare, among other important services. Tens of thousands of young people may be denied the opportunity for higher education. Seriously ill and elderly citizens may lose access to medical care. Lives may well be lost because of these cuts.

 

The state board of equalization estimates that taxing and regulating marijuana similarly to alcohol would earn the state $1.4 billion every year. While that won't solve all California's problems, it could save a few teachers' jobs or get a few students a college education.

 

But that won't happen until folks grow up and get serious about finding a marijuana policy that actually works. And Mr. Kerlikowske, you don't have to add the word "legalization" to your vocabulary. Just learn these two words: "tax" and "regulate."

 

Dan Bernath is the Marijuana Policy Project’s assistant director of communications, www.mpp.org. Email him at dbernath@mpp.org.