California Lawmakers To Debate Marijuana Legalization

By chillinwill · Oct 27, 2009 · Updated Nov 1, 2009 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    California state lawmakers are scheduled to hear testimony tomorrow in support of taxing and regulating the commercial production and distribution of marijuana for adults age 21 and older.

    Members of the California Assembly Committee on Public Safety have called for the hearing, entitled “Examining the Fiscal and Legal Implication of the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana.” The hearing will be chaired by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), sponsor of Assembly Bill 390, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act. It will take place at 10am in room 126 of the State Capitol.

    A press conference will take place prior to the hearing at 9 am in Capitol Room 317.

    California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer is scheduled to testify before the Committee at noon. [Editor's note: Read Dale's written testimony here.] NORML has also submitted prepared testimony to the Committee, which is available online here.

    Several representatives from law enforcement, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the Office of the Attorney General’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, are scheduled to testify in opposition to the bill.

    “The criminal prohibition of marijuana provides law enforcement and state regulators with no legitimate market controls,” states NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in prepared testimony. “This absence of state and local government controls jeopardizes rather than promotes public safety. I urge this Committee to move forward with the enactment of sensible regulations for legalizing marijuana.”

    Tomorrow’s hearing marks one of the first times since 1913 that the California legislature has debated ending criminal prohibition.

    If you live in California you can contact your member of the Assembly in advance of tomorrow’s historic hearing here.

    By: Paul Armentano
    October 27, 2009
    NORML Blog

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  1. chillinwill
    Re: California Lawmakers To Debate Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow!

    Push to Legalize Marijuana Gains Ground in California

    These are heady times for advocates of legalized marijuana in California — and only in small part because of the newly relaxed approach of the federal government toward medical marijuana.

    State lawmakers are holding a hearing on Wednesday on the effects of a bill that would legalize, tax and regulate the drug — in what would be the first such law in the United States. Tax officials estimate the legislation could bring the struggling state about $1.4 billion a year, and though the bill’s fate in the Legislature is uncertain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has indicated he would be open to a “robust debate” on the issue.

    California voters are also taking up legalization. Three separate initiatives are being circulated for signatures to appear on the ballot next year, all of which would permit adults to possess marijuana for personal use and allow local governments to tax it. Even opponents of legalization suggest that an initiative is likely to qualify for a statewide vote.

    “All of us in the movement have had the feeling that we’ve been running into the wind for years,” said James P. Gray, a retired judge in Orange County who has been outspoken in support of legalization. “Now we sense we are running with the wind.”

    Proponents of the leading ballot initiative have collected nearly 300,000 signatures since late September, supporters say, easily on pace to qualify for the November 2010 general election. Richard Lee, a longtime marijuana activist who is behind the measure, says he has raised nearly $1 million to hire professionals to assist volunteers in gathering the signatures.

    “Voters are ripping the petitions out of our hands,” Mr. Lee said.

    That said, the bids to legalize marijuana are opposed by law enforcement groups across the state and, if successful, would undoubtedly set up a legal showdown with the federal government, which classifies marijuana as an illegal drug.

    California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical purposes, in 1996, but court after court — including the United States Supreme Court — has ruled that the federal government can continue to enforce its ban. Only this month, with the Department of Justice announcement that it would not prosecute users and providers of medical marijuana who obey state law, has that threat subsided.

    But federal authorities have also made it clear that their tolerance stops at recreational use. In a memorandum on Oct. 19 outlining the medical marijuana guidelines, Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden said marijuana was “a dangerous drug, and the illegal distribution and sale of marijuana is a serious crime,” adding that “no state can authorize violations of federal law.”

    Still, Mr. Lee anticipates spending up to $20 million on a campaign to win passage of his ballot measure in California, raising some of it from the hundreds of already legal medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, which have been recently fighting efforts by Los Angeles city officials to tighten restrictions on their operations.

    “It’s a $2 billion industry,” Mr. Lee said of the medical marijuana sales.

    Opponents said they are also preparing for a battle next year.

    “I fully expect they will qualify,” said John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist for several groups of California law enforcement officials that oppose legalization.

    Any vote would take place in a state where attitudes toward marijuana border on the schizophrenic. Last year, the state made some 78,500 arrests on felony and misdemeanors related to the drug, up from about 74,000 in 2007, according to the California attorney general.

    Seizures of illegal marijuana plants, often grown by Mexican gangs on public lands in forests and parks, hit an all-time high in 2009, and last week, federal authorities announced a series of arrests in the state’s Central Valley, where homes have been converted into “indoor grows.”

    At the same time, however, there are also pockets of California where marijuana can seem practically legal already. At least seven California cities have formally declared marijuana a low priority for law enforcement, with ballot measures or legislative actions. In Los Angeles, some 800 to 1,000 dispensaries of medical marijuana are in business, officials say, complete with consultants offering public relations services and “canna-business management.”

    Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat and author of the legalization bill, said momentum for legalization has built in recent years, especially as the state’s finances have remained sour.

    “A lot of people that were initially resistant or even ridiculed it have come aboard,” Mr. Ammiano said.

    In Oakland, which passed a tax on medical cannabis sales in July, several people who signed a petition backing Mr. Lee’s initiative said they were motivated in part by the cost of imprisoning drug offenders and the toll of drug-related violence in Mexico.

    “Personally I don’t see a way of getting it under control other than legalizing it and taxing it,” said Jim Quinn, 60, a production manager. “We’ve got to get it out of the hands of criminals both domestic and international.”

    Mr. Lovell, the law enforcement lobbyist, however, said those arguments paled in comparison to the potential pitfalls of legalization, including people driving under the influence. He also questioned how much net revenue a tax like Mr. Ammiano is proposing would actually raise. “We get revenue from alcohol,” he said. “But there’s way more in social costs than we retain in revenues.”

    The recent history of voter-approved drug reform laws in California is not encouraging for supporters of legalization. Last November, voters rejected a proposition that would have increased spending for drug treatment programs and loosened parole and prison requirements for drug offenders.

    None of which seems to faze Mr. Lee, 47, a former roadie who founded Oaksterdam University, a medical marijuana trade school in Oakland, in 2007. Mr. Lee says he plans to use the Internet to raise money, as well as tapping out-of state sources for campaign money.

    More than anything, however, Mr. Lee said he was banking on a basic shift in people’s attitudes toward the drug.

    “For a lot of people,” he said, “it’s just another brand of beer."

    October 28, 2009
    NY Times
  2. chillinwill
    Re: California Lawmakers To Debate Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow!

    California Marijuana Ban Gets Legislative Review After 96 Years

    California’s Assembly will consider lifting its 96-year-old ban on marijuana, decriminalizing the drug and taxing it like alcohol, as the state seeks ways out of its worst financial crisis since World War II.

    The Assembly’s Public Safety Committee will discuss the social, fiscal and legal implications of legalizing and regulating marijuana in Sacramento today, said Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

    It would be the first time the issue has been considered by the Legislature since the ban on marijuana use went into effect in 1913, according to a statement from the San Francisco Democrat.

    “It is time to take our heads out of the sand and start to regulate this $14 billion industry,” Ammiano said in the statement. “By doing so, we can enact smart public policy that will bring much-needed revenue into the state and improve public safety by utilizing our limited law enforcement resources more wisely. The move toward regulation is simply common sense.”

    Ammiano introduced Assembly Bill 390 in February. If passed, it would add $1.34 billion to California’s annual revenue based on sales tax and a $50-an-ounce excise levy, according to the state’s tax administrator, the Board of Equalization.

    The bill will have its first policy hearing in January, Mecke said. The $14 billion figure cited by Ammiano is his estimated value of both illegal and medical marijuana, he said.

    Budget Deficit

    Since February, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and lawmakers have cut $32 billion from spending, raised taxes by $12.5 billion and covered $6 billion more with accounting maneuvers to close a budget deficit that threatened the largest U.S. state with insolvency. State officials predict a total of $38 billion in deficits in the next three fiscal years.

    A Field Poll conducted in April showed that 56 percent of registered voters in California supported legalizing and taxing marijuana. Voter initiatives are under way to have legalization measures on next year’s election ballot.

    Schwarzenegger is personally opposed to legalizing marijuana, said Aaron McLear, a spokesman, though he’s not against today’s hearings.

    “If it’s something that people think there should be a robust discussion about, then it’s something we should do,” McLear said yesterday to reporters in Sacramento.

    Paul Chabot, founder of the Coalition for a Drug Free California, said the proposal “just sends the wrong message.”

    ‘Enough Problems’

    “We have enough problems with alcohol and prescription drug abuse throughout California and the nation,” Chabot said in an interview yesterday. “The last thing we need to do is legitimize one more thing which is already responsible for sending more users to drug rehab than any other drug combined.”

    Chabot, 35, who is running for the state Assembly, said the issue is a personal one for him, as he entered rehab for marijuana use at age 12. He said the potential revenue from taxing marijuana would be offset by increased health and law enforcement costs to communities.

    The bill would also extend taxation to medical marijuana. California is one of 14 states allowing some marijuana use for health reasons, according to a U.S. Justice Department statement, and in July, Oakland voters approved a measure making their city the first in the U.S. to tax it.

    On Oct. 19, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department told federal prosecutors not to seek criminal charges against those who use or supply the drug for medical purposes in accordance with state laws, reversing the previous Bush administration approach.

    Focus for Feds

    The federal guidelines don’t legalize marijuana. The Justice Department will focus its resources on “serious drug traffickers while taking into account state and local laws,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.

    The Bush administration had said it would pursue charges in medical marijuana cases, even in those states.

    Marijuana, produced from the cannabis plant, can be smoked or ingested. Its recreational use is illegal in the U.S. Advocates of medical use say marijuana can ease cancer patients’ nausea from chemotherapy, help treat glaucoma, stimulate AIDS patients’ appetites and ease pain for multiple sclerosis sufferers.

    By Ryan Flinn and Michael Marois
    October 28, 2009
  3. chillinwill
    Re: California Lawmakers To Debate Marijuana Legalization Tomorrow!

    Bill to legalize, tax marijuana in California gets a hearing
    Legislation to make California the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use lit up a Capitol committee hearing Wednesday with three hours of lively but mellow debate.

    No joint consensus was reached.

    Dozens of people crammed into the Assembly Public Safety Committee session to discuss potential impacts of the proposal to allow pot to be taxed and sold openly to adults 21 and older.

    Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who proposed the measure, Assembly Bill 390, contends it could generate much-needed revenue and free peace officers to focus on worse crimes.

    "Prohibition results in chaos, which is pretty much the situation we have now," Ammiano said shortly before the hearing.

    But John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers' Association, testified that approving public pot use could exacerbate problems from illnesses to absenteeism.

    "There is no way marijuana could protect and promote our society," he said. "In fact, it radically diminishes it."

    Phillip Smith, 55, described himself as a pot smoker who otherwise abides by the law.

    "All I want is to be left alone," he said.

    Medical marijuana use already is legal in California, but not recreational use. More than 78,500 people were arrested in 2008 on pot-related offenses, state records show.

    Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken no position on AB 390.

    "He opposes the legalization of marijuana, but he believes we should have a robust debate on the issue, not only in fiscal terms but also with regard to health care and public safety," spokesman Aaron McLear said.

    Marijuana supporters, law enforcement officials, legal experts and others sparred Wednesday over the wisdom of decriminalization and the parameters of state discretion in allowing sale of a drug prohibited under federal law.

    Testimony revealed layers of complexity.

    Attorney Tamar Todd of the Drug Policy Alliance Network testified that nothing bars the state from decriminalizing pot, for example, while Attorney Marty Mayer of the California Peace Officers' Association countered that doing so would not prevent prosecution under federal law.

    Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, suggested the taxing scheme could fall apart because retailers filing records of marijuana sales might incriminate themselves on a federal offense. "You can't force me to incriminate myself," Hagman said.

    Supporters of AB 390 countered that medicinal marijuana dispensaries pay state taxes, despite the federal pot ban, a fact confirmed later Wednesday by the Board of Equalization.

    Equally hazy Wednesday was potential revenue that could be raised through a $50-per-ounce excise tax, sales taxes and seller fees.

    The Board of Equalization has estimated that marijuana sales could generate nearly $1.4 billion annually, a figure that has been hotly contested.

    Robert Ingenito, a BOE administrator, conceded Wednesday that the estimate depends on numerous assumptions, none backed by hard data. They range from market demand to extent of consumption, and from impact on street prices to potential reduction in taxable alcohol sales.

    "This is an imperfect exercise," he said.

    Ammiano plans to push AB 390 when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

    By Jim Sanders
    October 29, 2009
    The Sacramento Bee
  4. Quag
    Very Good Post:

    Everyone in CA should be ready to vote on AB 390. Get out and vote.

    The Quag
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