The use of recreational marijuana has long been a familiar part of college life. Here in California, whether students have a medical marijuana ID or not, the drug is easily accessible and its presence is felt at parties, dorms and apartments.
This November, a measure called Proposition 64 will appear on California ballots, essentially proposing the legalization of recreational marijuana for adults 21 or older (with restrictions on possession and cultivation). The passing of such a measure will have little effect in college, an environment where marijuana can be obtained whether you’re of-age or not. But the fact is, both before and after the recreational use of marijuana is legalized, whether students choose to smoke it is a matter of individual choice. However, the remarkable thing about Proposition 64 isn’t actually the part about legalizing marijuana. The special importance of Proposition 64 lies in the proposed 15 percent sales tax on the drug itself—which doesn’t sound too exciting until you think about just how many people, including and especially university students, smoke weed in California. If the measure passes in November, the state will experience a rapid increase in revenue that can and should be used to address one specific issue: the California housing crisis.
If young people (specifically, teens through 20-somethings) comprise the subgroup that smokes the most marijuana, then the revenue collected from the drug’s sales tax should clearly be directed toward their concerns. In regard to funding, schools certainly come to mind, but also something even more urgent: the state’s current shortage of affordable housing. Across cities in California, the development of new living spaces is just not keeping up with the rising numbers of people who are trying to live here. For students who will have to face this reality in just four years or fewer, the prospect of being able to find an apartment (much less afford one) after graduation is becoming more and more daunting. Obviously, the cost of living here is already immensely high, but as the Los Angeles Times reports, the price of an average home ($459,000) in California is more than twice the national average.
If Proposition 64 passes, California legislators will have something truly remarkable at hand: a sales tax collected from a very specific demographic (young people, particularly college students). If these young people choose to stay after graduation, California will be looking at a steady influx of revenue that has huge potential to improve the prospects of living in this state. It goes without saying that a portion of this revenue should go toward funding college financial aid in an effort to draw more students to the state. But more than half of the marijuana sales tax should be used to address housing, so that these students can afford to stay after they graduate.
The solution to California’s housing crisis is simple — build more housing — but figuring out what that entails is somewhat trickier. Many developers have difficulty building new living spaces in California because of the state’s many legal and environmental regulations. Oftentimes, if the public deems a new project distasteful for any reason, they can and do use environmental excuses to halt development. Thus, building more living units in California is an uneasy catch-22: In order to gain cheaper and more abundant housing, people must also concede to more cramped living conditions as well as look the other way toward possible environmental detriments. It is a tough reality for developers to face, but not one that cannot be strategized. Ideally, this is where the majority of the marijuana sales tax should be funneled. For example, if new units are built close to Metro stops or popular bus routes, the blow to the environment will be considerably less. And if they are built near colleges, where most of the students only stay in one space for a year at a time, there will be fewer efforts to stop the development of new apartments. Conveniently, living spaces located near campuses are also automatically connected to a network of restaurants, stores, and public transportation.
It is time for the public to recognize the deep wound the housing crisis causes, and also to open its mind to the possibility of a more tightly-packed metropolis. It is time, also, for legislators to consider Proposition 64, if passed, as not just a measure that legalizes a drug, but also as a proposal that holds immense potential to help correct issues young people in California face. Proposition 64 won’t change anything about anyone’s college lifestyle. But its impact can and should be felt after college, when recent graduates start trying to contribute their talents to California’s burgeoning industries.
Their state should welcome them.