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Governor Asks: What If Pot’s Legal And Taxed?

As California struggles to find cash, Gov.  Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday it’s time to study whether to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use.

california marijuana usa lowryderThe Republican governor did not support legalization – and the federal government still bans marijuana use – but advocates hailed the fact that Schwarzenegger endorsed studying a once-taboo political subject.

“Well, I think it’s not time for ( legalization ), but I think it’s time for a debate,” Schwarzenegger said.  “I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I’m always for an open debate on it.  And I think 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?”

Schwarzenegger was at a fire safety event in Davis when he answered a question about a recent Field Poll showing 56 percent of registered voters support legalizing and taxing marijuana to raise revenue for cash-strapped California.  Voters in 1996 authorized marijuana for medical purposes.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, has written legislation to allow the legal sale of marijuana to adults 21 years and older for recreational use.  His Assembly Bill 390 would charge cannibis wholesalers initial and annual flat fees, while retailers would pay $50 per ounce to the state.

The proposal would ban cannibis near schools and prohibit smoking marijuana in public places.

Marijuana legalization would raise an estimated $1.34 billion annually in tax revenue, according to a February estimate by the Board of Equalization.  That amount could be offset by a reduction in cigarette or alcohol sales if consumers use marijuana as a substitute.

Besides raising additional tax revenue, the state could save money on law enforcement costs, Ammiano believes.  But he shelved the bill until next year because it remains controversial in the Capitol, according to his spokesman, Quintin Mecke.

“We’re certainly in full agreement with the governor,” Mecke said.  “I think it’s a great opportunity.  I think he’s also being very realistic about understanding sort of the overall context, not only economically but otherwise.”

Schwarzenegger previously has shown a casual attitude toward marijuana.  He was filmed smoking a joint in the 1977 film, “Pumping Iron.” And he told the British version of GQ in 2007, “That is not a drug.  It’s a leaf.” Spokesman Aaron McLear downplayed the governor’s comment as a joke at the time.

Even if California were to legalize marijuana, the state would hit a roadblock with the federal government, which prohibits its use.  Ammiano hopes for a shift in federal policy, but President Barack Obama said in March he doesn’t think legalization is a good strategy.

Any study would find plenty of arguments, judging by responses Tuesday.

Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, R-Irvine, said he’s open to a study, but he remains opposed to legalization.  He warned that society could bear significant burdens.  He downplayed enforcement and incarceration savings because he believes drug courts are already effective in removing low-level offenders from the system.

“Studies have shown there is impairment with marijuana use,” DeVore said.  “People can get paranoid, can lose some of their initiative to work, and we don’t live in some idealized libertarian society where every person is responsible completely to himself.  We live in a society where the cost of your poor decisions are borne by your fellow taxpayers.”

But Bruce Merkin of the Marijuana Policy Project said studies show alcohol has worse effects on users than marijuana in terms of addiction and long-term effects.  His group believes marijuana should be regulated and taxed just like alcoholic beverages.

“There are reams of scientific data that show marijuana is less harmful than alcohol,” Merkin said.  “Just look at the brain of an alcoholic.  In an autopsy, you wouldn’t need a microscope to see the damage.  Marijuana doesn’t do anything like that.”

Schwarzenegger said he would like to see results from Europe as part of a study.

The Austrian parliament last year authorized cultivation of medical marijuana.  But Schwarzenegger talked with a police officer in his hometown of Graz and found the liberalization was not fully supported, McLear said.

“It could very well be that everyone is happy with that decision and then we could move to that,” Schwarzenegger said.  “If not, we shouldn’t do it.  But just because of raising revenues …  we have to be careful not to make mistakes at the same time.”

Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Website: http://www.sacbee.com/
Author: Kevin Yamamura

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