Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 2009
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2009 North County Times
Author: Edward Sifuentes
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Regulation)


Opponents Say Costs of Legalizing Marijuana Are Too High

Depending on which side you take, marijuana either is a miracle plant 
with a bad rap or a gateway drug to a life of crime.

And even as local governments struggle to reconcile their regulations 
with the state's medical marijuana law and the federal prohibition 
against pot, pro-marijuana advocates are taking their efforts one 
step beyond: legalizing it.

There are two ballot initiatives and one bill pending in Sacramento 
that would legalize marijuana for personal use. Advocates say 
legalizing and taxing the drug would help the cash-starved state and 
free law enforcement to focus on violent crimes.

"I think that collectively these efforts illustrate that there is 
much momentum to end decades of failed marijuana policies," said 
Stephen Gutwilling, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a 
nationwide group that advocates legalizing marijuana.

The group supports, but has not officially endorsed, the voter 
initiatives and the bill, Gutwilling said.

Opponents say legalizing pot will only increase drug addiction and crime.

"It makes no sense," said John Redman, executive director for 
Californians for a Drug Free Youth, a drug abuse prevention group 
based in San Diego.

In recent years, San Diego County has been a flashpoint for those who 
favor loosening drug laws and those who oppose it. For years, the 
Board of Supervisors fought to overturn the state's 1996 medical 
marijuana law. It lost that battle in May.

Last week, Escondido adopted a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. 
The county and Oceanside adopted ordinances temporarily banning the 
establishments while they research options on how to regulate the dispensaries.

Tax It, Regulate It

Pro-legalization advocates were emboldened earlier this year by a 
Field Poll that found 56 percent of California voters supported 
legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Two groups filed initiatives with the secretary of state to legalize marijuana.

One of the initiatives was filed by Oakland medical marijuana 
entrepreneur Richard Lee, who helped push a first-of-its-kind tax on 
city medical marijuana dispensaries that passed with 80 percent of 
the vote last month.

The other was filed by a group of Northern California criminal defense lawyers.

Pro-legalization advocates say that decades of law enforcement 
efforts against the drug have failed to deter its widespread use or 

"Taxing and regulating cannabis, like we do with alcohol and 
cigarettes, will generate billions of dollars in annual revenues for 
California to fund what matters most: jobs, health care, schools and 
libraries, roads and more," proponents wrote in the Regulate, Control 
and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, one of the two initiatives.

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to keep up to 1 ounce of 
marijuana for their personal use.

The other measure, the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 
2010, would set no specific limits on the amount of pot adults could 
possess or grow for personal use. And it would clear the criminal 
record of anyone convicted of a pot-related offense.

Both initiatives are awaiting review by the state attorney general's 
office before the proponents can begin collecting signatures.

The statewide measures need nearly 434,000 signatures to be included 
on the November 2010 ballot.

In February, state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, 
introduced a bill that would allow adults 21 and older to legally 
possess, grow and sell marijuana. He said California could benefit 
from revenues of taxing the sale of marijuana.

The State Board of Equalization estimated in a report released in 
July that taxing marijuana would generate about $1.4 billion in 
revenue for the state. The report estimates that marijuana retail 
sales would bring $990 million from a $50-per-ounce fee and $392 
million in sales taxes.

"It would be great if they just made it legal for everyone," said 
James Stacy, who runs a medical marijuana collective in North County.

More Harm Than Good

Opponents say legalizing pot would create more problems than it would solve.

The public health costs of increased drug abuse would outweigh any 
financial gain from legalization, Redman said.

"It's a horrible idea, because when you reduce the perception of harm 
and increase availability, (drug) abuse goes up," Redman said.

Substance abuse programs cost the county and the nation billions, 
Redman said. Taxing marijuana would not raise enough money to cover 
the cost of the problems it would produce, he said.

"The problem is that you are not going to be able to tax away the 
burden," Redman said.

Mary Anne Dijak, who works with the anti-drug abuse group North 
Inland Community Prevention Program, said marijuana also can be a 
gateway drug for teens, meaning it could lead to the use of other drugs.

Many teens are arrested while on drugs, she said. Many more could 
follow if the drug is legalized, she said.

Dijak pointed to a recent study by the San Diego Association of 
Governments, a regional planning agency, that said the number of 
teens arrested in the county who are under the influence of marijuana 
has increased in recent years.

The number of juvenile arrestees testing positive for marijuana rose 
from 40 percent in 2007 to 44 percent in 2008, while the number 
testing positive for methamphetamine rose from 8 percent to 10 
percent, according to the study.

Law enforcement officials also are concerned about the possibility of 
marijuana being legalized.

The Escondido Police Department's assistant chief, Cory Moles, said 
legalizing it would lead to more crime, such as driving under the influence.

"I think the drugs are illegal for a reason, because they are harmful 
to people," he said.

Leslie McGill, executive director of the California Police Chiefs 
Association, said the group has not taken a position on the marijuana 
legalization measures.

However, the association recently conducted a study on medical 
marijuana dispensaries that said the establishments attract violent 
crime, including armed robbery and murder.

"Because they are repositories of valuable marijuana crops and large 
amounts of cash, several operators of dispensaries have been attacked 
and murdered by armed robbers and are regularly burglarized," 
according to the study. "Drug dealing, sales to minors, loitering, 
heavy traffic, increased noise, robberies of customers ... are also 
common ancillary byproducts of their operations"


Legalization opponents also point out that even if the state were to 
decriminalize marijuana, people would still be subject to federal 
law, which prohibits the possession and use of marijuana.

The federal Controlled Substances Act, approved in the 1970s, says 
that marijuana is a "Schedule 1" drug, without any medical value and 
on par with heroin, LSD and mescaline.

Gutwilling said it's time to end the federal marijuana ban as well. 
He said his group favors legalizing only marijuana. The group favors 
treatment for drug addicts rather than incarceration, he said.

Gutwilling likened the ban on marijuana use to the prohibition of 
alcohol in the 1920s, which led to violence, corruption and gang wars.

"Nobody dies today over running beer," Gutwilling said. "And we have 
made an enormous amount of progress through state-funded education 
campaigns against substance abuse." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake