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California lawmaker introduces pot legalization bill
Jeremy Gantz
Published: Monday February 23, 2009


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If California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has his way, the Golden State might become known as the Green State to pot smokers around the country.

During a press conference Monday morning in San Francisco, Ammiano introduced "The Marijuana Control, regulation and education act." The far-reaching bill would go well beyond decriminalization of marijuana to actually legalize the cultivation, sale, purchase and possession of the plant.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense," Ammiano said. "This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes."

Ammiano and a group of speakers during the press conference described the bill as "a simple matter of fiscal common sense," according to the San Francisco Weekly.

The bill would remove "all penalties under California law for the cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, and use of marijuana, natural THC and paraphernalia by persons over the age of 21"; would "prohibit local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws"; and would create a $50 state fee for each ounce of marijuana sold, beyond whatever pot will cost once it becomes legal, the newspaper reported.

"Marijuana arrests actually increased 18 percent in California in 2007 while all other arrests for controlled substances fell," Steve Gutwillig, California's director of Drug Policy Alliance, said during the press conference. "This costs the state a billion dollars a year and taxpayers are footing the bill. Meanwhile, black marketers are laughing all the way to the bank."

Ammiano's bold legislation comes on the heels of a recent statement by three former Latin American presidents, who called for legalization of marijuana and described the U.S. "War on Drugs" as a failure. Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria said there was no meaningful debate over drugs policy in the United States, despite a broad consensus that current policies had failed.

Last year, Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) introduced a bill on Capitol Hill to decriminalize marijuana, which he called the "Make Room for the Serious Criminals Bill" on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher. More than 10 U.S. states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of the plant; Massachusetts did so last month. Oregon was the first to do so, in 1973.

Speaking Monday at the San Francisco press conference, a retired Orange County judge said "the most harmful thing about marijuana today is prison ." Judge James P. Gray, who recently retired from his 25-year post and has run for Congress as a Republican, said prohibition of pot "clog[s] the court system."

"The stronger we get on marijuana, the softer we get with regard to all other prosecutions because we have only so many resources," Gray said. "And we at this moment, have thousands of people in state prison right this minute who did nothing but smoke marijuana."

According to recent polls, 41 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana. That's a higher approval rating than that currently enjoyed by Rush Limbaugh, former President George W. Bush and Republican congressional leaders, according to PollingReport.com.


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