California Pot Legalization May Mean 'Hundreds Of Millions' For State: AG (Huffington Post link): A California initiative that would legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana may be coming soon to the state ballot after a positive review by the state attorney general. But the real news is how much money legalization could bring to the cash-strapped state government.
California Attorney General Kamala Harris last week released a summary of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act, which backers are pushing for a spot in November's election.
Though not an endorsement, Harris' generally positive title and summary of the initiative explained that it would legalize under state law marijuana use, growth, cultivation, possession, transportation, storage and sale. It also would create a regulatory commission, apply sales taxes, allocate revenue and prohibit discrimination against marijuana users and businesses.
The summary says a legislative analyst estimated the initiative would save the state "hundreds of millions of dollars." Merry Christmas, indeed!
Here's what the fiscal analysis had to say:
Reduced costs in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders. Potential net additional tax revenues in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually related to the production and sale of marijuana, a portion of which is required to be spent on education, health care, public safety, drug abuse education and treatment, and the regulation of commercial marijuana activities.
(Mod: So after decades of attempting to convince the public that smoking marijuana is not a good thing, the state is now willing to legalize it, but with the feel good proviso that it will spend some of the tax proceeds on programs designed to educate the public that smoking marijuana is not a good thing. Sure. I bet that'll work just fine.)
Americans are buying less electricity. That’s a big problem for utilities (Washington Post link): Something very unusual has been happening to the U.S. electricity sector over the past three years. The U.S. economy keeps growing. People are buying bigger homes and plugging in ever more electronic gadgets. And yet power companies have been selling less and less electricity since 2011.
Perhaps this is just a random blip. Yet some analysts think we really could be entering a new era in which Americans buy less and less electricity — either because they're becoming more efficient or they're finding ways to generate their own electricity, through solar panels and other means. And if that's true, it's a huge problem for many electric utilities.
Electric utilities make more money by selling more power. They don't usually benefit if people start buying more efficient washing machines or installing solar panels on their roofs. If these trends are accelerating, that's a real problem for power companies.
The doomsday scenario for utilities goes like this: Solar power keeps getting cheaper and more people start installing panels. In the meantime, overall electricity use grows slowly or stagnates. That means utilities are selling less and less electricity. In order to recoup their costs for things like maintaining the grid, they have to hike rates on their remaining customers. That pushes even more people to install solar panels, hurting sales further. Commence the death spiral.
Sound far-fetched? This exact scenario was laid out by an industry trade group, the Edison Electric Institute, in a report back in January. Even though solar power currently provides just 0.2 percent of U.S. electricity, prices are dropping fast, and even a small amount of distributed solar generation could prove disruptive. David Crane, CEO of NRG Energy, has called these trends "a mortal threat to the existing utility system.”
(Mod: At last, an incentive for going solar that would appeal to the likes of me.)
Iceland halts road scheme because it might have disturbed the Elves (Daily Mail link): In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the 'hidden folk' - thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland's wilderness.
So perhaps it was only a matter of time before 21st-century elves got political representation.
Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from the tip of the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer.
They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.
The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact - including the impact on elves - of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.
And it's not the first time issues about 'Huldufolk', Icelandic for 'hidden folk', have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that 'issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on'.
Scandinavian folklore is full of elves, trolls and other mythological characters. Most people in Norway, Denmark and Sweden haven't taken them seriously since the 19th century, but elves are no joke to many in Iceland, which has a population of 320,000.
A survey conducted by the University of Iceland in 2007 found that some 62 per cent of the 1,000 respondents thought it was at least possible that elves exist.
Ragnhildur Jonsdottir, a self-proclaimed 'seer', believes she can communicate with the creatures through telepathy.
'It will be a terrible loss and damaging both for the elf world and for us humans,' said Jonsdottir of the road project.
(Mod: I think that Sierra Madre could use some elves right now. Does Iceland offer an exchange program? We'll take a few of their elves, and Iceland can have our Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem.*)
Tech investor tries to rally support for splitting California (Los Angeles Times link): Veteran technology investor Tim Draper wants to reboot California. He held a news conference on Monday to talk up his proposal to split California into six states, including one called Silicon Valley.
"Something is not working in our state, and I'm convinced it’s with our existing system. It's untenable and ungovernable," Draper said.
The idea of redrawing the map of California has been met with plenty of scorn and skepticism. No one other than Draper has come out in favor of it. And Draper is 1 million signatures away from getting it on the ballot.
But Draper, whose father and grandfather were also venture capitalists, said California is ready for a fresh start.
"The status quo is dying and sucking the life out of us," Draper said. "Californians are still the greatest, most innovative people on the planet, and I ask them to innovate their government back to health and prosperity."
Draper’s proposal skimps on nitty gritty details (such as how wealth will be shared or water rights and high-speed rail negotiated), he says change will improve just about everything including income inequality.
Here’s how it would work. California would be split up into six states. Jefferson would be to the north, with North California below it. Central California would be in the middle east of the state, while Silicon Valley would be to the West. West California, including Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, would be in the south, with South California at the very bottom of the state.
Secessionism is a popular notion in Silicon Valley, something Draper acknowledged, taking the opportunity to complain about overreaching regulations. It’s clearly a bid to get the tech industry the kind of government it wants: by Silicon Valley for Silicon Valley.
“Here in Silicon Valley, people feel the state is out of touch,” Draper said.
(Mod: Is there anywhere in California where people don't feel the state is out of touch? Personally I am OK with Draper's idea, but only if we are not a part of whatever state includes Los Angeles County. I think we'd be much better off joining South California.)
Everybody have a Happy New Year. We'll be back in 2014. Or tomorrow, depending on how you look at these things. We'll see you at the Rose Parade if you're there. Go Sierra Madre!)