US CA: OPED: It’s Time to Legalize and Regulate Pot

Pubdate: Sat, 1 May 2010
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: 13A
Copyright: 2010 The Sacramento Bee
Author: John Russo
Cited: Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act
Bookmark: (Cannabis – California)


When it comes to marijuana policy, California has been stuck in a fairy tale for decades.

This particular fairy tale is like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Everybody can see that marijuana prohibition has done nothing to prevent its use, and that arresting tens of thousands Californians every year for misdemeanor possession diverts police resources away from violent felonies.

And nobody is blind to the fact that marijuana has funded and empowered the sociopathic drug cartels responsible for untold suffering and violence on both sides of the border.

It’s time for Californians to acknowledge the truth about the war on marijuana. Not only is it ineffective, it directly compromises public safety in our state.

In November, California can become the first state to recognize this reality by passing the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.

This smart initiative would legalize personal cultivation and possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Individual cities and counties could strictly regulate distribution and sales as they see fit. It would increase the penalty for providing marijuana to minors, and sales by unlicensed dealers those now funding the cartels and wreaking havoc in our cities would still be illegal.

California banned cannabis almost a century ago based on sensational and unscientific notions about the plant. Modern prohibition, based on some of the same anachronistic ideas, has failed to control widespread availability and use. Like the 18th Amendment’s prohibition against alcohol, it is routinely overlooked by millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Others have made common-sense arguments about the economic benefits of taxing this major industry. Cannabis is by far the largest cash crop in the state, with an estimated value of about $14 billion. Estimated tax revenue from sales alone would be $1.4 billion money that could go to police, public schools and other critical services now being gutted by California’s budget crisis.

As the city attorney of Oakland a city where dozens of people are killed in drug-related murders every year my primary concern is the war on marijuana’s collateral damage to public safety.

Black-market marijuana is a main source of fuel powering the vast criminal enterprises that threaten peace on our streets and weaken national security on our borders. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Mexican drug cartels get more than 60 percent of their revenue from selling marijuana in the United States.

Money is the oxygen of these organizations. For decades, our approach to fighting violent drug gangs has been like trying to put out a house fire with a watering can. Why not try shutting off the fire’s main oxygen supply?

The actual costs of enforcing prohibition are hard to estimate. We spend hundreds of millions of dollars and countless law enforcement hours arresting people for low-level marijuana crimes, further overburdening courts and prisons. Jail beds needed for marijuana offenders could be “used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space,” the state Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote.

More than 61,000 Californians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession in 2008. That same year, about 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved statewide. The reality is that resources tied up fighting marijuana would be better spent solving and preventing violent felonies and other major crimes.

Regulating and controlling marijuana is really a law-and-order measure. It takes marijuana off street corners and out of the hands of children. It cuts off a huge source of revenue to the violent gangsters who now control the market. And it gives law enforcement more capacity to focus on what really matters to Californians making our communities safer.

It’s time we call marijuana prohibition what it is an outdated and costly approach that has failed to benefit our society. In November, we will finally have the chance to take a rational course with the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act.