REGULATION WOULD TAKE IT OUT OF CRIMINALS' CONTROL
What if California could raise hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue to preserve vital state services without any tax increase? And what if at the same time, we could, without any new expense, help protect our endangered wilderness areas while making it harder for our kids to get drugs?
That is precisely what the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act ( AB390 ) that I recently introduced would do. The legislation is the logical next step in California's and hopefully the nation's public policy toward marijuana.
I introduced AB390 not only to address California's growing economic crisis but, more importantly, to begin a rational public policy discussion about how best to regulate the state's largest cash crop, estimated to be worth roughly $14 billion annually. Placing marijuana under the same regulatory system that now applies to alcohol represents the natural evolution of California's laws and is in line with recent polls indicating strong support for decriminalizing marijuana.
To understand the reasoning behind AB390, it is helpful to understand how we got here. The state first prohibited marijuana in 1913. When Congress later passed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, marijuana was temporarily labeled a "Schedule I substance" - an illegal drug with no approved medical purposes.
But Congress acknowledged that it did not know enough about marijuana to permanently classify it as Schedule I, so it created a presidential commission to review the research. In 1972, the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse advised Congress to remove criminal penalties on the possession and nonprofit distribution of marijuana.
"Neither the marijuana user nor the drug itself can be said to constitute a danger to public safety," concluded the commission, led by then-Gov. Raymond Shafer of Pennsylvania. President Richard Nixon and Congress ignored the report. Since then, more than 14 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges and marijuana has remained listed as a Schedule I substance - actually treated by federal law as more dangerous than cocaine and methamphetamine.
Here in California, enforcement costs for marijuana offenses had become so high by 1975 that the Legislature decriminalized possession of small quantities in the Moscone Act, saving the state $100 million each year. In 1990, the California Research Advisory Panel urged further decriminalization, noting that "an objective consideration of marijuana shows that it is responsible for less damage to society and the individual than are alcohol and cigarettes." By 1996, the medicinal benefits of marijuana had been well documented and California voters legalized the medical use of marijuana by passing Proposition 215. Thirteen states across the nation have since followed suit.
With U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announcing last week that the federal government will end raids on marijuana dispensaries in California and other states with medical marijuana laws, it is clear that the tide is turning. Fact regarding marijuana is finally overcoming fiction.
There may be disagreements about what direction to take, but it is clear to everyone involved that our current approach is not working. Regulation allows common-sense controls and takes the marijuana industry out of the hands of unregulated criminals.
As a member of the state Assembly, I believe we must acknowledge reality and bring innovative solutions to the issue of marijuana, not simply wait for the federal government. This is how change happens. Californians lead rather than follow, and we can set an example for the nation as we did on medical marijuana by passing AB390.
San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
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