From the February 2010 Idaho Observer:

Marijuana Momentum: Callifornia leads the way

by Aaron Hudlemeyer

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense. This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the state, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes. ...California has the opportunity to be the first state in the nation to enact a smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana.” ~California Rep (D) Tom Ammiano

Pro marijuana regulation groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) are among many hundreds of non-profit organizations that distill the argument for cannabis regulation into its purest form: marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time for a new approach. In fact, it is such a failure according to MPP that “in the U.S. there are more arrests for marijuana possession each year than for all violent crimes combined [and] 89% of these are for marijuana possession — not for sale or manufacture.”

In February of 2009, U.S. attorney general Eric Holder announced a change in policy on marijuana. The Justice Department will no longer raid medical marijuana dispensaries that are established legally under state law but restrict its policy to traffickers masquerading as dispensaries and “using medical marijuana laws as a shield.” This is 180 degrees from prior administrations where federal officials raided marijuana dispensaries even if they were in compliance with state laws. Currently 14 states have approved the use of cannabis to treat illness. The number is growing and Californians want to take the next step.

On February 29, 2009, Democrat Tom Ammiano of California’s 13th State Assembly district, introduced the first ever bill to regulate the sale and use of marijuana in the state. On January 12, 2010 this bill became the first marijuana regulation in history to pass a legislative body with the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee vote of 4 to 3. While this comes as a significant victory for cannabis law reformers, it is essentially dead on arrival due to missing the Jan 15 legislative deadline to move the bill to the Health Committee. This is an insignificant hiccup in the fight to reform marijuana laws with advocates hailing it as a major breakthrough that will lead to a national legalization movement.

In the mean time nearly 700,000 registered voters — far more than the 433,971 valid signatures required — have signed an initiative to put marijuana regulation on the state ballot in November of this year. With almost 50 percent more than the needed signatures the sentiment is clear; Californians want change. Secretary of State Debra Bowen has until June 24 to certify the initiative, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Jonathan Perri, the Western regional director of SSDP wrote in a February 1, Los Angeles Times article that “Legalizing and taxing marijuana won’t cure California’s chronic budget woes. But should we really be cutting from education while spending all the money it takes to enforce our failed prohibition policies? Furthermore, the California Tax and Regulate initiative on the November ballot would not allow the use of marijuana by people under 21. I certainly don’t want more young people smoking marijuana. But some of the teens I helped as a substance-abuse counselor told me that it was easier to purchase marijuana inside their own schools than it was to buy beer or cigarettes from a convenience store. This is not what a successful policy looks like.”

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