Pubdate: Tue, 24 Feb 2009
Source: Alameda Times-Star, The (CA)
Copyright: 2009 ANG Newspapers
Author: Jim Sanders, McClatchy Newspapers
Referenced: Assembly Bill 390
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


California may be going to pot -- literally.

Marijuana would be grown and sold openly to adults 21 and older under 
legislation introduced Monday morning by a San Francisco lawmaker.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the cash-starved state 
could generate more than a billion dollars by taxing pot growers and sellers.

Ammiano predicted that the public would support loosening marijuana 
laws that require substantial public funds to enforce.

"I think there's a mentality throughout the state and the country 
that this isn't the highest priority," he said. "And that maybe we 
should start to reassess."

Before California could legalize marijuana, however, it also might 
have to persuade the federal government to alter its prohibition on cannabis.

Ammiano said federal officials may be receptive to such changes under 
the administration of President Barack Obama.

"We may be on a parallel track here," said Ammiano, a freshman 
legislator who was sworn into office less than three months ago.

The Drug Policy Alliance, an advocate of loosening marijuana laws, 
applauded Ammiano's proposal.

"Marijuana already plays a huge role in the California economy," said 
Stephen Gutwillig, the group's California state director. "It's a 
revenue opportunity we literally can't afford to ignore any longer."

Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, said legalizing marijuana 
would be a bad idea. He said he considers pot a "gateway drug" from 
which many users graduate to harder and more dangerous substances.

"I don't think we're particularly well-served in our society to 
further accommodate or even encourage something that's going to be 
unproductive and damaging to the individual -- especially not for the 
reason of generating revenue," he said.

Ammiano's bill, Assembly Bill 390, would allow marijuana to be sold 
openly -- like alcohol -- in retail outlets statewide.

The state would gain by charging sellers a fee of $50 per ounce. Pot 
growers also would be charged under the measure.

Driving under the influence of marijuana would continue to be illegal.

AB390 calls for numerous restrictions, such as banning use near 
schools or growing cannabis in public view, according to Ammiano aides.

Besides generating new tax revenue, Ammiano said his bill would save 
money by easing pressure on law enforcement and prisons.

"People in general are supportive," he said.

Ammiano said he hopes that legalizing pot could be a step toward 
avoiding shortfalls as large as the recent $40 billion projection 
that prompted months of partisan fighting and, ultimately, tense 
all-night sessions before agreement was reached on a budget.

"After being locked up with my colleagues for three days, I never 
want to do that again," Ammiano said, chuckling.
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