Pubdate: Sat, 9 May 2009
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: 1A, Front Page
Copyright: 2009 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Jim Sanders
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Bill Clinton tried it in college - but didn't inhale.

Barack Obama inhaled.

"Frequently," he once quipped. "That was the point."

Bob Dylan sang about it: "Everybody must get stoned."

Weed, pot, grass, doobie, Mary Jane - whatever you call it, there is 
no mistaking the pungent smell of burning joints or their impact on 
California culture for decades.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger opened a new front for discussion this 
week, saying that while it's not time to legalize pot, he's willing 
to talk about it as a revenue-raising measure.

The off-the-cuff remark by the well-known governor of the nation's 
largest state has sparked fresh debate about whether societal 
attitudes are shifting as 1960s hippies move beyond middle age.

"It's time to acknowledge that marijuana prohibition has been a 
catastrophic failure and we need a new approach," said Aaron Smith of 
the Marijuana Policy Project's California branch.

Others disagree.

"Why on Earth would any sane person want to add yet another 
mind-altering, health-compromising substance to the array of 
substances that compromise one's five senses?" said John Lovell, 
lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association and various 
other law enforcement groups.

Schwarzenegger, who was filmed smoking a joint in the 1977 film, 
"Pumping Iron," sparked headlines by responding to a reporter's 
question about a Field Poll. The survey found that 56 percent of 
voters support taxing pot used for pleasure or partying.

"I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues - I'm always 
for an open debate on it. ... But just because of raising revenues, 
we have to be very careful not to make mistakes at the same time," 
Schwarzenegger said.

No state allows open sale of recreational marijuana.

California would be the first to legalize recreational pot use under 
legislation introduced months ago by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San 
Francisco, who has shelved it until next year.

The state Board of Equalization has estimated that legalizing 
marijuana would reduce its street price by 50 percent, increase 
consumption, and generate about $1.3 billon annually in taxes.

Merrill Cowee, a 48-year-old Marysville man who uses medicinal 
marijuana for lower-back pain, gives a thumbs-up to legalization.

"Why not?" he said. "I've seen the damage that alcohol does to 
families - not only a person, but families. To me, I've never seen 
pot do that."

But Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, 
said he has significant concerns about open sales.

"That may be a bridge too far - even for California," Coupal said.

California could not legalize marijuana unless the federal government 
alters its current prohibition, which appears unlikely.

Obama has said he supports decriminalizing pot use, fining minor 
offenders rather than jailing them. But the president has not 
proposed dropping marijuana from penal codes altogether.

Marijuana advocates nonetheless are convinced that times are 
changing, pointing to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's 
announcement two months ago that the federal government will stop 
prosecuting medical cannabis dispensaries.

"The reason that marijuana prohibition has been kind of the elephant 
in the room that nobody wants to talk about is because of the fear 
there would be a political backlash," Smith said.

"Now, especially with the economic crisis in California, there are 
much more unpopular proposals being tossed around than making 
marijuana legal," he said.

Forty-two percent of California's high school juniors, 25 percent of 
high school freshmen and 9 percent of seventh-graders said in a 
state-sponsored survey two years ago that they had tried marijuana.

Mark DiCamillo, Field Poll director, said a segment of voters has 
favored legalizing adult pot-smoking for years but "the need for 
revenue is now kind of pushing it over to a majority."

Supporters tout legalization of marijuana as simply accepting the pot 
smoking that exists now, undercutting black-market demand, saving 
money by easing the crunch on prisons, and generating tax revenues 
for drug education.

In the Netherlands, although marijuana remains illegal, coffee shops 
openly sell small quantities without reproach, Smith said.

But California should be wary of giving its blessing to recreational 
use of a drug that can impair driving, thus endangering others, and 
potentially cause long-term damage to health, critics say.

Lt. Wayne Bilowit of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said 
revenue from taxing marijuana would not compensate for additional law 
enforcement problems, or for increased injuries or deaths from 
pot-related traffic collisions.

"How do you put a price tag on that?" he said.

Marijuana crimes prompted 57,995 misdemeanor and 16,124 felony 
arrests in 2007, with about 900 offenders landing in prison, 
according to the state attorney general's office.

Marijuana's supporters and critics often argue over whether pot is addictive.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that marijuana abuse 
can lead to addiction, and that using weed can lead to short-term 
memory damage, increased heart rate, impaired coordination and 
respiratory problems often experienced by tobacco smokers.

Johnny Novello, 38, of Reno said legalization would allow pot's 
quality to be regulated, reducing odds of it being laced with 
dangerous chemicals.

"If it's going to be used anyway by adults, you might as well tax it," he said.

Lanette Davies and her daughter, Brittany, 18, do not see eye to eye 
on legalization, which would apply only to adults but conceivably 
could send a message to kids about social values.

Some kids see it as a thrill, a little dangerous, to break the law by 
smoking pot, Brittany Davies said.

"(Legalizing) it would take that edge off," she said.

But her mother, Lanette, who helps run a Sacramento medicinal 
marijuana dispensary, Canna Care, said that no medicine should be 
consumed on a whim.

"The message would be that it's OK to find recreational relief in the 
use of medication - and that's not what we want to send to the 
public," she said.