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www.theytoldyou.com California lawmakers on Tuesday endorsed an overhaul of the state’s marijuana laws by pushing forward a bill to legalize adult recreational use and taxation of the drug. The 4-3 vote by the Assembly Public Safety Committee was the first in the nation by a legislative body supporting recreational use of the drug. But several of the lawmakers who voted for the plan said they did so only to extend debate.
The 4-3 vote by the Assembly Public Safety Committee was the first in the nation by a legislative body supporting recreational use of the drug. But several of the lawmakers who voted for the plan said they did so only to extend debate.
“I do not support marijuana. I don’t use it, I don’t want my kids to use it, I don’t want anyone’s kids to use it,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who voted in favor. But he said he supported the plan because he wants “a more rationale approach to … a failed criminalization policy.”
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supported extending the discussion, though he added that he supports current laws.
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“(The Legislature) will come up with a good decision, I’m absolutely convinced of that,” the Republican governor said.
The bill may die a procedural death, however, as it is up against a Friday legislative deadline to move out of the health committee, which has no meetings scheduled before the end of the week. The bill’s sponsor, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said he would reintroduce the plan if that happened.
“This is a significant vote today because it legitimizes the quest for debate, the quest for discussion,” Ammiano said. “There was a time when the ‘m’ word never would have been brought up in Sacramento.”Under existing California law, only medical use of the drug is allowed. Recreational use is not permitted and users, sellers and growers risk jail time, prison time and/or fines.
AB390 would allow possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana for people over 21, and impose a $50-an-ounce sales tax, much like taxes on tobacco and alcohol. The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would be tasked with regulation.
The vote in Sacramento comes as state lawmakers in New Jersey on Monday made that state one of the few on the East Coast to approve medicinal marijuana use. Up north in Olympia, the Washington State Legislature will consider two bills today to remove state criminal penalties associated with marijuana.
In California, law enforcement officials from across California attended the Tuesday hearing to oppose the measure, while drug policy reform advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke in favor.
San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer, who is acting president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said she was “disappointed” by the committee’s action and said she believes the state’s approach for handling marijuana has been effective in keeping young people from using it.
“I think we need to have the full dialogue in debunking the myths,” she said, predicting the social costs would outweigh any tax gains.
State officials have estimated taxing and regulating marijuana could bring anywhere from a few hundred million dollars up to $1.4 billion annually, though one person who testified against the measure called that “blood money.”
Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills (San Bernardino County), the vice-chairman of the committee, voted against the proposal and said it had not fully been vetted.
“This issue needs to be discussed more, but this bill is not the vehicle to do that,” Hagman said.
Drug policy reform advocates called the vote a watershed moment for marijuana laws.
“This is an historic vote that marks the formal beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Ammiano won the support of the other Democrats on the committee, who are all from the Bay Area. Voting yes were Ammiano, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, Huffman and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. Voting no were Furutani, Assemblyman Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford (Kings County) and Hagman.