Pubdate: Tue, 06 Apr 2010
Source: Joplin Globe, The (MO)
Copyright: 2010 The Joplin Globe
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


(MCT) WASHINGTON - Mary Lou Dickerson had seen enough. After 
wrenching cuts to Washington's state drug and alcohol treatment 
programs, Dickerson, a Democratic representative, introduced a bill 
this year to sell marijuana in state liquor stores - and tax it.

Dickerson is an unlikely crusader for marijuana legalization. A 
63-year-old grandmother who doesn't use it, she says money was the 
only reason for proposing her controversial bill. "According to the 
state's own estimates, it would bring in an additional $300 million 
per biennium," she says. "I dedicated (in the bill) a great deal of 
the proceeds from the tax on marijuana to treatment."

The proposal died in committee, but Dickerson, who chairs the House 
Human Services Committee, expects to reintroduce it. Other advocates 
in almost two dozen states have been making similar efforts to loosen 
marijuana laws.

This has been a bumper year for marijuana legislation, according to 
state policy observers. Crushing state budget deficits gave advocates 
in California, Washington, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New York and 
elsewhere an opening to pitch marijuana as a new source of tax 
revenue. At the same time, the Obama administration gave users and 
distributors some breathing room by signaling in October that it 
would scale back on prosecuting them as long as they comply with state law.

Eighteen states discussed medical marijuana through legislation or 
citizen initiatives this year. Most visibly, California election 
officials announced on March 24 that this year's ballot would include 
a question to allow local governments to legalize and tax marijuana, 
casting a spotlight on the state that first legalized medical 
marijuana in 1996.

While most state legislative efforts are likely to fail, a victory in 
California could encourage other states to follow suit just as they 
did when California approved medical marijuana. A 2009 poll found 56 
percent of California voters support outright legalization. Estimates 
from California's Board of Equalization peg the amount the state 
could raise from marijuana legalization at $1.4 billion.

But those projections rest on shaky assumptions that the state could 
keep track of growers and that distributors would accurately disclose 
their sales, if at all. And since marijuana is still illegal under 
federal law, it's unclear how the Obama administration would 
ultimately react to more permissive state marijuana laws.

Officials have struggled for years with the legal questions posed by 
state and federal marijuana laws that appear to be in conflict. "The 
more people talk about marijuana laws the more people come to the 
conclusion that they've completely failed, so we're definitely 
optimistic here," said Aaron Smith, California policy director for 
the Marijuana Policy Project.

Meanwhile, opponents of legalization in California are gearing up for 
their own campaign, knowing that the rest of the country will be 
watching. "We have a lot of pressure on us," says Aimee Hendle, 
statewide coordinator of Californians for Drug Free Youth. She sees 
marijuana advocates as opportunists exploiting the state's financial distress.

"They are seeing the vulnerability of the citizens of California with 
the state of our state," she says.

Arizona is also going this route for new tax revenue. Senators there 
have already approved levying the state sales tax on medical 
marijuana, even though voters won't weigh in on medical marijuana 
until this November's ballot. In Nevada, marijuana advocates are busy 
collecting signatures to place a legalization measure on the state's 
2012 ballot. Rather than leaving the question of legalization up to 
local governments, as California's initiative does, Nevada's proposal 
would legalize and tax marijuana statewide. Nevada voters have 
already approved medical marijuana.

David Schwartz, campaign manager for Nevadans for Sensible Drug Laws, 
will be watching his counterparts in California. "If they win, it 
will be a stark event in the long battle to end marijuana 
prohibitions in this country," he says.

In South Dakota, Emmet Reistroffer is also among those following the 
news from California. Last year, he took time off from the University 
of South Dakota to gather signatures for a medical marijuana ballot 
initiative. It was a home-grown effort, drawing 40 volunteers, almost 
no national attention and no funding from major marijuana policy 
groups. Reistroffer, a Sioux Falls 20-year-old, took a part-time job 
at a local bar to make ends meet.

While he says he doesn't necessarily support outright legalization, 
he wants to make marijuana accessible for patients like his mother, 
who suffers from lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. She has used 
marijuana in the past, he says.

"While I was growing up I had friends in DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance 
Education)," he says. I've always looked at it very differently. I've 
always seen this injustice and felt obligated to do something about it."

Reistroffer plans to spend his summer trying to convince voters at 
county fairs. In 2006, voters turned down a medical marijuana measure 
on a close vote, the only state that has ever done so. If the measure 
passes this year, it will mark a significant shift in South Dakota's 
attitude toward marijuana, he says.

But states shouldn't count on a revenue bonanza from marijuana since 
distributors still risk federal prosecution by emerging from the 
shadows, according to Robert Mikos, a Vanderbilt University law 
professor. Ideally, the thousands of small-scale marijuana farm 
operations would consolidate into larger groups that would be easy 
for states to tax, but the federal ban makes that unlikely, he says.

"If you get too big, you attract the attention of the federal 
government. If you're a mom-and-pop marijuana distributor in 
California right now, you have almost no concern about the federal 
ban," Mikos says.

Also, states would have to keep track of growers who have paid taxes. 
"That's a goldmine of information for the federal government," Mikos 
says. "If California requires marijuana distributors to keep records 
of all their sales the federal government could sweep in, take that 
information and use it to prosecute these people."

In October, the Justice Department released a memo indicating it 
would back off from prosecuting medical marijuana users who are 
complying with state law, but the memo did not say the department 
would tolerate outright legalization in states, opening up more legal 

"The federal government will continue to try to combat recreational 
marijuana so California is kind of getting ahead of itself," Mikos says.

But Hendle and other opponents of legalization will also keep up 
their fight. "Even if you say it's only for people over the age of 
21, that's what they say about alcohol and look at all the underage 
drinking that we have," she says. "We're now going to make this a 
larger problem."


A commission led by former Pennsylvania governor Raymond Shafer 
recommends to President Richard Nixon that marijuana be decriminalized.

Oregon decriminalizes possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana.

Colorado decriminalizes possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

Ohio decriminalizes possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana.

California decriminalizes possession of 28.5 grams or less of marijuana.

Maine decriminalizes possession of 1.25 ounces or less of marijuana.

Minnesota decriminalizes possession of 42.5 grams or less of marijuana.

Mississippi decriminalizes possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana.

New York decriminalizes possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana.

North Carolina decriminalizes possession of half an ounce or less of marijuana.

Nebraska decriminalizes possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

Ronald Reagan becomes president. His administration would take a 
tough stand against drugs, discouraging states from softening their 
marijuana policies.

California legalizes medical marijuana.

Oregon legalizes medical marijuana.

Washington legalizes medical marijuana.

Alaska legalizes medical marijuana.

Maine legalizes medical marijuana.

Hawaii legalizes medical marijuana.

Colorado legalizes medical marijuana.

Nevada legalizes medical marijuana and decriminalizes possession of 1 
ounce or less of marijuana.

Maryland establishes a defendant's medical condition as an 
affirmative defense in marijuana prosecutions.

Montana legalizes medical marijuana.

Vermont legalizes medical marijuana.

The U.S. Supreme Court finds that the federal government could take 
steps prohibiting cultivation and distribution of marijuana despite 
state laws allowing medical marijuana in Gonzales v. Raich. The 
ruling reinforces the federal government's supremacy over states in this area.

Rhode Island legalizes medical marijuana.

New Mexico legalizes medical marijuana.

Massachusetts decriminalizes possession of 1 ounce or less of marijuana.

Michigan legalizes medical marijuana.

The U.S. Department of Justice signals it will not aggressively 
prosecute suppliers or users of marijuana if they are complying with 
state medical marijuana laws.

Passed but not implemented

Washington, D.C., has passed a law legalizing medical marijuana.

New Jersey has passed a law legalizing medical marijuana.

Source: The National Conference of State Legislatures, the Marijuana 
Policy Project and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom