Pubdate: Wed, 28 Oct 2009
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 Independent Media Institute
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and is the 
co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving 
People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).


The following is the testimony NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano
will deliver on Oct. 28 to the California Assembly Public Safety
Committee's special hearing on "the legalization of marijuana: social,
fiscal and legal implications for California." Assemblyman Tom
Ammiano, D-San Francisco, sponsor of AB 390, The Marijuana Control,
Regulation and Education Act, is the chairman of the committee.

By any objective standard, marijuana prohibition is an abject

Nationwide, U.S. law enforcement have arrested over 20 million
American citizens for marijuana offenses since 1965, yet today
marijuana is more prevalent than ever before, adolescents have easier
access to marijuana than ever before, the drug is more potent than
ever before, and there is more violence associated with the illegal
marijuana trade than ever before.

Over 100 million Americans nationally have used marijuana despite
prohibition, and 1 in 10 -- according to current government survey
data -- use it regularly.

The criminal prohibition of marijuana has not dissuaded anyone from
using marijuana or reduced its availability; however, the strict
enforcement of this policy has adversely impacted the lives and
careers of millions of people who simply elected to use a substance to
relax that is objectively safer than alcohol.

NORML believes that the state of California ought to amend criminal
prohibition and replace it with a system of legalization, taxation,
regulation and education.

The Case for Legalization and Regulation

Only through state government regulation will we be able to bring
necessary controls to the commercial marijuana market. (Note: Nonretail
cultivation for adult personal use would arguably not be subject to such
regulations, just as the personal, noncommercial production by adults of
beer is not governed by such restriction.) By enacting state and local
legislation on the retail production and distribution of marijuana,
state and local governments can effectively impose controls regarding:

which citizens can legally produce marijuana;

which citizens can legally distribute marijuana;

which citizens can legally consume marijuana; and where, and under
what circumstances such use is legally permitted.

By contrast, the criminal prohibition of marijuana -- the policy the
state of California has in place now -- provides law enforcement and
state regulators with no legitimate market controls. This absence of
state and local government controls jeopardizes rather than promotes
public safety.

For example:

Prohibition abdicates the control of marijuana production and
distribution to criminal entrepreneurs (i.e. drug cartels, street
gangs, drug dealers who push additional illegal substances);

Prohibition provides young people with unfettered access to marijuana
(e.g., according to a 2009 Columbia University report, adolescents now
have easier access to marijuana than they do alcohol);

Prohibition promotes the use of marijuana in inappropriate and
potentially dangerous settings (e.g., in automobiles, in public parks,
in public restrooms, etc.)

Prohibition promotes disrespect for the law and reinforces ethnic and
generation divides between the public and law enforcement. (According
to the FBI's Uniform Crime Report, 75 percent of all marijuana
arrestees are under age 30; African Americans account for only 12
percent of marijuana users but make up 23 percent of all possession

Marijuana is not a harmless substance -- no potentially mind-altering
substance is. But this fact is precisely why its commercial production
and distribution ought to be controlled and regulated in manner
similar to the licensed distribution of alcohol and cigarettes -- two
legal substances that cause far greater harm to the individual user,
and to society as a whole, than cannabis ever could.

Taxing and regulating cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol will
bring long-overdue state oversight to a commercial market that is
presently unregulated, uncontrolled and all too often inundated by
criminal entrepreneurs.

While this alternative may not entirely eliminate the black-market
demand for cannabis, it would certainly be preferable to today's
blanket, although thoroughly ineffective, expensive and impotent,
criminal prohibition.

Voters nationwide, and in California in particular, support ending
criminal marijuana prohibition. This past spring, 56 percent of
California voters expressed support for taxing and regulating
marijuana in a statewide Field poll.

Doing so would give greater control to state law enforcement officials
and regulators by imposing proper state restrictions and regulations
on this existing and widespread marijuana market.

I urge this committee to move forward with the enactment of sensible
regulations for legalizing marijuana.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake