Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2009
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2009 The Sacramento Bee
Note: Does not publish letters from outside its circulation area.
Author: Dan Walters
Referenced: Assembly Bill 390
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


Habitual use of marijuana may be a dumb thing to do, but really, is 
it any dumber, or more harmful, than abusing liquor or smoking 
cancer-causing cigarettes?

The difference, of course, is that while possession of marijuana in 
small amounts is no more illegal than a traffic infraction, selling 
it can be a serious crime. And those who sell it and those who commit 
other crimes to buy it represent a significant portion of those 
locked in California's very overcrowded prisons.

Isn't it time to recognize that the war on this particular 
recreational drug is an abject failure, costing taxpayers many 
millions of dollars each year? Wouldn't it be smarter to legalize 
marijuana - which may be the state's largest single agricultural 
crop, estimated at $14 billion a year - and tax its sale to adults 
much as we do liquor and cigarettes?

Yes, says first-term San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who on 
Monday announced introduction of legislation that would do exactly 
that, flanked by representatives of drug law reform groups.

Legalization of marijuana would save countless millions, perhaps 
billions, of dollars in law enforcement, court and prison costs each 
year while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state 
treasury. What's not to like?

"It is simply nonsensical that California's largest agricultural 
industry is completely unregulated and untaxed," Aaron Smith, policy 
director for the Marijuana Policy Project California, said in a 
statement accompanying Ammiano's announcement. "With our state in an 
ongoing fiscal crisis - and no one believes the new budget is the end 
of California's financial woes - it's time to bring this major piece 
of our economy into the light of day."

This is not exactly a revolutionary step, more like an evolutionary 
one. The Legislature decriminalized possession of small amounts of 
marijuana for personal use more than 30 years ago. Our voters have 
given their blessing to allowing sufferers from certain diseases to 
use the drug as a pain reliever.

Who would oppose further legalization? Guardians of the public 
morals, of course, but mostly, those now engaged in the drug wars - 
law enforcement organizations and their support lobbies on one side 
and the marijuana growers themselves on the other.

Legalization would mean a loss of funds for the drug strike teams, 
the undercover operatives and other police units on one side, thus 
forcing them to concentrate on real crimes. And legalization would 
cut into the enormous untaxed profits that the growers now realize, 
since making it a legal crop would probably reduce prices.

The nation legalized liquor after its failed experiment with 
prohibition in the 1920s. Bootlegging had become a lucrative trade 
that established the Mafia as a national crime syndicate, one that 
expanded into other fields, including drugs, after prohibition ended. 
The bottom line is that marijuana should be legalized for the same reason.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom