Date: Mon, 3 May 2010
Subject: #438 Little Consensus On Initiative To Legalize Cannabis?
LITTLE CONSENSUS ON INITIATIVE TO LEGALIZE CANNABIS?
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #438 – Monday, 3 May 2010
Today the San Francisco Chronicle printed a front page article about
The Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act.
The actual text of the initiative may be found at http://www.taxcannabis.org/index.php/pages/initiative/
A DrugSense blog post related to the article is at
News clippings specific to the initiative may be found at
News clippings specific to California are posted at
An anonymous donor has challenged DrugSense and MAP to raise $25,000
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Source: San Francisco Chronicle
Copyright: 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
LITTLE CONSENSUS ON INITIATIVE TO LEGALIZE POT
Talk about murky.
The economic impact, the potential social and legal landscape, even
the split between the pro and con sides in the squabble over the
initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot to legalize marijuana for recreational
use in California – they’re all about as clear as smoke from a bong.
Most medicinal-marijuana advocates think it would be just fine if
good-time tokers joined their legal crowd. Others worry it might ruin
the purity of using pot as medicine.
Some associated with law enforcement think it’s time to treat weed
like liquor and give up trying to tamp down the trade. More think this
approach will just lead to a dangerous explosion of potheads on the
roads and at work.
There are illegal-weed growers who are afraid they’ll lose their
livelihood, and others who think business will boom. A few
politicians, including Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata and
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who is floating his own
legalization bill in the Legislature, are backing the measure. Many,
including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the major candidates to
replace him, oppose it.
And then there is the money issue – the biggest elephant in a smoky
room of elephants.
Proponents of the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 say
taxing pot could inject $1.4 billion a year in taxes and fees into a
state general fund that badly needs the money. The annual California
pot output, according to the state Board of Equalization, is estimated
to be worth $14 billion, making it the state’s biggest cash crop – and
if marijuana is legalized, the figure could billow much higher,
Opponents counter that the figure is a pipe dream, because even if the
measure passes, pot use will still be illegal under U.S. law – so
anyone reporting income will be vulnerable to federal
About the only thing both sides can agree on is that if the measure
passes, nobody knows exactly how it will play out.
It would be the most sweeping decriminalization of the use and sale of
marijuana in America.
“It’s hard to imagine how the discussion of legalizing marijuana would
have even gotten off the ground if not for the state budget crisis,”
said Robert MacCoun, a UC Berkeley law professor who specializes in
He noted that opposition to legalization in California polled at
around 80 percent until voters authorized pot in 1996 for medical use.
By the early 2000s, those in favor of legalization were polling above
40 percent. Last year, with the state deep in budgetary crisis, a
Field Poll cracked the halfway mark and put support in California at
Clearly, the desire to aim a new fire hose of cash at the state’s $20
billion deficit is making the taxation of pot more attractive than
ever, MacCoun said. But just as significant, most of the momentum to
legalize pot comes from younger people.
A KPIX-TV poll by Survey USA, released April 21, found that
three-fourths of respondents 18 to 34 years old supported
legalization. Part of that is probably attributable to a more relaxed
attitude toward pot after its legalization for medical use, MacCoun
said, but equally important is that the younger generation is more
accustomed than even their Baby Boomer parents to being around people
who use marijuana – and to using it themselves.
UC Davis law Professor Vikram Amar, another expert on marijuana
policy, summed up the explanation for legalization being taken
seriously in succinct, nonbudgetary terms:
“A lot of people like pot now,” he said. “And a lot of other people
don’t care about pot.”
Amar believes that because cannabis will still be illegal under
federal law, “the state can’t possibly make as much money in taxes as
some people estimate. It can’t raise the money unless people report
the income, and if you do that you are serving yourself up to the
feds, and you could go to jail for a long time.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in October that the federal
government would not pursue medical marijuana operations and users if
they are following state law, but he has not said how his office would
react to passage of the California initiative.
Skeptics of legal marijuana’s economic benefits for California such as
Amar have some unlikely allies – people involved in the illegal trade.
Some of them say the crop is worth a fortune now, but if it is
legalized, pot will be easier to get and prices might plummet, along
with tax revenue.
Still, the more common sentiment among those in the cultivation trade,
both legal and illegal – particularly growers in boutique-heavy
Mendocino County – is that they are itching for legalization so they
can turn their weed vistas into a dope-tourism draw akin to Napa Valley.
Medical Pot Backers Weary
Most purveyors of medicinal herb have cautiously backed the
initiative, but many are concerned that that health-conscious medical
approach they’ve been emphasizing will be diffused.
“I do support the measure, but I am still afraid this could lead to an
explosion of cannabis shops and different levels of regulation
everywhere, with some counties being taken by surprise,” said Steve
DeAngelo, director of the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the
nation’s biggest medical marijuana dispensary, with 46,000 clients. “I
believe adults should be able to use something as safe as cannabis – –
but it should done responsibly.”
Expansion in Growth Seen
The basics of the proposition are that it would legalize the
possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal, recreational
use by anybody 21 or older. Each person could also grow weed for
personal use as long as it was confined to a 5-by-5-foot space.
But the application of the six-page law could lead to significant pot
growth and sales from one end of the state to the other.
Local jurisdictions would be allowed to set their own regulations
under the proposed law, and that could mean anything from cities or
counties keeping the recreational ban in place to the spread of large
farms and the sales of dope, packaged like cigarettes in sprightly
boxes, in corner stores on every block.
“My personal favorite is selling in coffee shops,” said initiative
creator Richard Lee, 47, who founded Oaksterdam University, the
pot-trade school in Oakland. “But if a city or county wants to put it
in a liquor store or a grocery store, that’s their choice.
“I’m a believer in the free market,” he said. “If you have a good
product, it will sell.”
The groundwork for such sales has already been set in cities such as
San Francisco and Oakland, where medical-marijuana dispensaries had
rocky, sloppily run starts but have generally settled in as part of
The picture is less rosy in Los Angeles, whose 500 dispensaries are
the most numerous of any city in the country. Continual police raids
and wrangling over nuisance ordinances and complaints suggest that a
further proliferation of sellers might prove challenging.
Another fear among some growers and users at a recent forum on the
initiative in Ukiah (Mendocino) was that big companies might come in
and supplant the little growers with plantations. But noted
cannabis-advocacy attorney Omar Figueroa of Sebastopol said that was
unlikely because they would be vulnerable to federal
Bill Phelps, spokesman for Philip Morris – the nation’s No. 1
cigarette-maker – said the company was not taking a position on the
initiative, but cautioned against anyone taking seriously rumors of
big corporations going for the pot trade.
Most Police Oppose Measure
Most in law enforcement are predictably unimpressed with
John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers’ Association
and several other law enforcement groups that oppose the initiative,
said the measure could bring an escalation of addicts and be “a job
“Under this initiative, you will be able to come to work high on
marijuana, and in fact you might even be able to sell it at work if
you have a local permit,” Lovell said. “You will see many California
businesses move out of state if they can, because they will face
increased costs and insurance from this. It could be devastating,
costing the state money instead of bringing money in.”
Some in law enforcement, such as retired Orange County Judge James
Gray and former San Jose police narcotics Detective Russ Jones, are
pushing for the initiative, likening the current situation to
Gray said he is conservative and has never smoked pot. But he has
written for years that marijuana could more effectively be controlled
through regulation and treatment programs, rather than police and jails.
“It is really clear that what we’re doing with marijuana in our state
and country simply is not working,” he said.
But backers like Gray are anomalies, Lovell maintained.
“I think most people know that if this law passes, this state will
have gone to pot,” he said. “They will vote accordingly.”
Changed Political Climate
Poppycock with overblown fears, said Aaron Smith, California policy
director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
Under the proposed law, driving and working regulations will be
enforced the same way they are for drunkenness, he said. He downplays
any notion of the state teeming with potheads, and said he doubts the
weed trade will be dampened by fear of the feds, noting that the
medical pot trade already generates $100 million annually in local and
state tax revenue.
The last time an initiative to legalize pot outright was put before
California voters, in 1972, it was trounced. But since then has come
the 1996 initiative that legalized medicinal marijuana, and with it
the rise of medical pot dispensaries and businesses all over the state.
With 13 other states having followed California’s lead in legalizing
medicinal marijuana, Smith said, this state is finally primed and
positioned to lead the way in ending pot prohibition.
“It’s clear to me we have the support,” he said. “Victory is just a
matter of getting those supporters out to vote in November.
“Some adjustments will have to be made after it passes, but it will
all work out.”
Suggestions for writing letters are at our Media Activism Center
The marijuana section of Drug War Facts has been updated
Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor www.mapinc.org