Legalizing Marijuana? Not Any Time Soon
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on May 6 in Davis, a college town down the road from Sacramento, that while he doesn’t think its time to legalize marijuana in California, it’s time to debate it’s legalization.
He was asked his views on legalization by reporters in the context of the state’s continuing budget problems as a possible way to raise more revenue to help close what is likely to be a gap of more than $13 billion between revenue and spending commitments during the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“Well, I think it’s not time for (legalization), but I think it’s time for a debate,” the GOP governor said. “I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it. We ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect did it have on those countries?”
Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, said on May 7 that he is “open to all options in this budget environment” but said he was cautious about legalization.
“I have seen too many people mess up their lives by smoking too much dope.”
Schwarzenegger’s comments came a week after a Field Poll asking voters what state services they want cut to balance the budget. Majorities said they oppose cutting the three largest areas of state spending: schools, health care and higher education.
While most voters said they didn’t want their own taxes increased, nearly three-fourths thought taxes should be increased on millionaires. A similar number said taxes on tobacco and alcohol should be increased. Eighty percent favored taxing pornography and 56 percent said marijuana should be legalized and taxed.
Legislation to do that was introduced in February by freshman Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat. The measure, which has yet to have its first committee hearing, would make California the first state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana use.
Thirteen years ago, voters approved Proposition 215, a ballot measure legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Ammiano’s measure, AB 390, would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana by persons over 21 years of age. Taxes and fees from legalization could add more than $1 billion to state coffers, Ammiano contends.
The State Board Equalization says a $50-an-ounce fee could yield $1.3 billion in annual tax revenue.
Some of the fees in Ammiano’s measure would pay for drug abuse prevention programs.
The state would license marijuana wholesalers. An initial license could cost no more than $5,000, a renewal no more than $2,500.
“Marijuana shall be kept behind a counter in an area not directly accessible to any customer, and shall be stored in a case that is locked between sales,” the bill requires.
The bill also says marijuana may be grown only in place in the house or the yard where it is “not visible from any public place.” Air space is not included in the definition of public place.
Growers can have no more than 10 mature plants at any given time. Violation of the cultivation restrictions – an infraction with a fine of up to $100.
Federal law prohibits the sale, cultivation or possession of marijuana. Ammiano’s measure encourages them to change their stance. But, in case they don’t, the measure bans “local and state assistance in enforcing inconsistent federal and other laws relating to marijuana.”
Expansion of sin taxes hasn’t fared well in the Capitol.
Former Senator, now Assemblyman, Chuck Calderon, a Montebello Democrat, tried to impose a fee on pornography to pay for domestic violence centers. The centers objected to the measure saying they did not want to be funded by sales of a product they say contributes to domestic violence.
The alcohol industry routinely swats down tax increases efforts like the so-called “nickel-a-drink” tax. Two ballot initiatives are responsible for 75 cents of the state’s 87-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes.
A bill is pending before the Senate Health Committee to increase cigarette taxes by $1.50 a pack – a boost to the state’s general fund of more than $1 billion, if approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor. Passage is unlikely — the measure requires a two-thirds vote and Republicans have not supported past efforts to boost tobacco taxes.
Although possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, lawmakers are reluctant to back legislation that could make them appear soft-on-crime, fearing campaign attack pieces.
That makes legalization of marijuana even more difficult.
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