Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger should visit Mendocino County before getting too far out in front of proposals to legalize marijuana.
At a news conference in Davis recently, he said “it’s time for a debate” and suggested studying “what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs. What effect did it have on those countries?”
Well, what was the effect at home? Voters in Mendocino County effectively legalized marijuana in
2000, passing a ballot measure that said residents could grow pot for personal use and made marijuana laws the last priority for local law enforcement. The voters repealed the law in 2008, fed up with the commercial growers who descended on a county where marijuana already was the leading cash crop.
Still, Schwarzenegger may be right. It may be time for a debate, and it’s certainly time for a thorough study of the risks and benefits of legalization.
But, as Mendocino County’s experience and more than a decade of conflicts between states and the federal government over medical marijuana laws show, this issue can’t be settled by the states or local voters. Congress must act on the federal law first.
The aroma of tax dollars appears to have attracted Schwarzenegger’s attention. The state Board of Equalization estimates that California could raise $1.3 billion a year taxing pot. But the chance to tax isn’t why marijuana laws are worth reconsideration.
Better reasons are the enormous expense of decades of failed efforts to eradicate marijuana and the increasing violence of the black market trade — though we couldn’t accept those arguments for legalizing other illicit drugs.
Public support for reconsideration now appears to extend beyond those who use marijuana, for medical or recreational purposes.
A Field Poll published last week found that 56 percent of California voters favor legalizing marijuana and taxing it. And an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46 percent support nationally.
For too long, marijuana has been a taboo for politicians. The federal government has been an obstacle to any serious academic research of marijuana’s risks and values. Action must come from Washington, and Schwarzenegger should enlist other states to press for serious research that could be the basis for a genuine national debate about whether marijuana laws should be changed.