December 3, 2009 – Marijuana is California’s largest agricultural commodity with $14 billion in sales yearly, distancing itself from the state’s second largest—milk and cream—which bring in $7.3 billion a year. But California’s coffers only receive a fraction of the marijuana sales, $200 million coming from the sale of medical marijuana. That could all change with Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act (AB 390).

Since February, when the bill was introduced, it has made little headway in the Legislature. But in October, a hearing on the bill was held by the Public Safety Committee; marking the first time a legislative committee held a hearing on marijuana legalization.

AB 390 would create a system that would regulate marijuana much like alcohol is regulated. Those over the age of 21 could purchase pot from vendors with licenses to do so. The state’s Legislative Analyst and the Board of Equalization have estimated that pot sales could bring up to $1.3 billion in revenue yearly. That number is based off a proposed $50-per-oz. levy placed on marijuana purchases and sales tax.

With a projected deficit of $20 billion facing the state next fiscal year, sources of guaranteed revenue are needed. But there are those that believe that the social issues legalizing pot could have far outweigh any economic benefits.

“Why add another addictive element to our society? I don’t think we should criminalize marijuana, but I don’t think having marijuana where you can buy it like cigarettes or alcohol is something we ought to be doing as a society. I believe we are moving in the wrong direction on that,” said Steve Francis, a former San Diego mayoral candidate and founder of the site—a site that focuses on news and research of alcohol and drug addiction.

Francis says that legalizing marijuana would ultimately cost the state money. He cited a report issued by the Marin Institute that found the economic cost of alcohol use is $38 billion annually, with the state covering $8.3 billion for health-care treatment of alcohol-caused illnesses, plus crime costs, traffic incidents and reduced worker productivity. The taxes and fees collected from alcohol sales only cover 22 percent of total government costs. He says there is every reason to believe the same would happen with marijuana.

“Whatever taxes the author of the legislation thinks we are going to collect on the taxation of marijuana will be very little compared to the social costs on California,” he said.

But the economic impact legalizing marijuana could have goes beyond taxation. Nearly a fifth of California’s 170,000 inmates are locked up because of drug-related crimes. Although most are convicted on crimes more severe than possession, legalizing marijuana would save the state $1 billion in law enforcement and corrections costs.

Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray says the best solution is to repeal the prohibition of marijuana, allowing the substance to become regulated and less available to children.

“We couldn’t make this drug any more available if we tried,” he said in TIME. “Unfortunately, every society in the history of mankind has had some form of mind-altering, sometimes addictive substance to use, misuse, abuse or get addicted to. Get used to it. They’re here to stay. So let’s try to reduce those harms, and right now we couldn’t do worse if we tried.”

Even if California were to legalize marijuana, there are those that believe that the gray area between federal and state law would only widen. Since California’s Compassionate Use Act was passed in 1996, medicinal marijuana has become more accessible to those need it. But it has opened the gates of confusion, as federal laws still consider marijuana illegal. In fact, cannabis is described as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has no medical use and cannot be prescribed by a physician. Many California municipalities have been reluctant to allow medical marijuana dispensaries, even though they were legalized 13 years ago.

There has been some indication that the federal government is starting to ease its control of marijuana. A few days after Ammiano introduced AB 390, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that states should be allowed to determine their own rules for medical marijuana and that federal raids on dispensaries would stop in California. President Obama’s nomination of Gil Kerlikowske to be the so-called drug czar and head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicated that a softer federal stance on marijuana is being taken. Kerlikowske is the former police chief in Seattle, where he made it clear that going after marijuana possession was not a priority for his department.

A vote by the Public Safety Committee on AB 390 is expected in January. Ammiano said the bill could take between a year and two years before it is heard or voted on in the Legislature. Until then, the debate over decriminalizing marijuana will continue amidst one of California’s worst economic times. BY Landon Bright Source.


November 22, 2009 – With multiple initiatives in circulation and an Assembly bill gathering headlines, discussions about legalizing marijuana have become part of California’s political discourse.

Advocates on one side argue that the result will be an economic boon as tax revenues rolls in and jails rid themselves of nonviolent offenders. Defenders of prohibition say legalization would be a nightmare of stoned kids, addiction and highway deaths.

Or maybe the reality would be a lot more mundane.

“Most of the popular debate is dominated by two groups—avid pro-marijuana crowd, and the true prohibitionists,” said Michael Vitiello, a University of Pacific law professor who has written several articles on the topic, including a recent Wisconsin Law Review piece looking at the potential for legalization in California. Both sides, he said, are prone to “gross overstatements.”

By contrast, Vitiello calls himself a “tepid legalizer.” On the one hand, he said, he doesn’t “expect Western civilization as we know it to end” if pot becomes legal. He points to the widely-circulated statistic that per capita marijuana in the Netherlands, where pot has essentially been legal for years, is half that of the U.S — partially, he said, because few there view the drug as “cool.”

Medical research, Vitiello said, is increasingly pointing to the idea that people choose or avoid certain drugs based on their own brain chemistry. Marijuana is already so prevalent in California, he said, that most people who would use it probably already are.

On the other hand, he said he doubts projections that legalization will result in big tax revenues and thousands of non-violent offenders leaving prisons. The bigger impact would probably come on local jails, where many people head for a period after a marijuana arrest but never actually go to prison.

“The idea that we’re going to empty our prisons and save a billion, I don’t know how they’re getting that number,” Vitiello said.

Most in the debate agree that very few people are going to prison in California merely for smoking pot. The bigger issue is how many people are going back to prison on a parole violation of failing a drug test for marijuana. This has become a major rallying point for pro-legalization activists.

“My estimate is that there are thousands of people today in state prison in California for having done nothing but smoking marijuana because they were on parole,” said James Gray, a retired Orange County Superior Court judge who has become a major legalization and libertarian activists.

According to Corrections spokesman Paul Verke, only 256 were found to have violated parole in California last year solely for failing a marijuana test. He added that he did not know how many of these were returned to custody. Some in the legalization community say they have been seeking these figures, unsuccessfully, for years. “CCR will say it’s not many, parole officers will say they never do that, but on the other had we know family members who say that they have,” said Margaret Dooley- Sammuli, deputy state director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Clearly this is an area where we don’t know what happening, and clearly this is a problem.”

Another area where the actual effect would be unclear is on tax revenue. The legalization initiative filed by the founder’s of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, which teaches students about cultivation and other aspects of the medical marijuana business, cites a figure of $15 billion in illegal marijuana sales in California annually. While estimates vary, few contest that pot is California’s top cash crop, easily outpacing our state’s vaunted wine industry.

That initiative calls for unspecified taxes. AB 390, the marijuana legalization bill being carried by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, calls for a tax of $50 an ounce. Growers would pay a licensing fee of $5,000, with a $2,500 annual renewal. While it’s very unlikely AB 390 will get anywhere, some have pointed to these fees as a possible model of taxation.

But the state would be trying to overlay these taxes on an already-thriving illegal market, with numerous large operations already running without the knowledge of authorities. Legalization would also likely inspire more people to grow their own. Few people are going to grow and ferment their own wine, or grow and roll their own tobacco for that matter. But small amounts of marijuana can be successfully grown by anyone who can keep a houseplant alive.

In fact, Vitiello said, there is a natural tension between the desire to relax law enforcement and the hope of brining in tax revenue. If not reporting a crop is nothing more than a minor tax offense, he said, there will be little incentive for most people to report to the Franchise Tax Board. Making penalties strong enough to get people to report, however, could actually send more people to prison, at least in the short term.

John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers Association and several other law enforcement groups, scoffs at the idea that legal pot would be a moneymaker for the state.

“The hard dollars will be far more than any revenue that is brought in through any kind of spurious tax effort,” Lovell said.

Lovell referred to studies from Maryland and British Columbia that he said point to the dangers of people driving while under the influence of marijuana—a problem he said would get much worse under legalization. He also pointed to a RAND Corp. study he said that shows pot taxes would be a fraction of what proponents claim. Most of the tax penalties in current bills and initiatives, he said, amount to little more than “licensing fees.”

Another issue is the penalties for selling to minors. Many proponents have said the penalties should be similar to those for adults who procure alcohol for kids. Both the Ammiano bill and Oaksterdam initiative allow legislative leeway in determining what these penalties should be.

“These things are negotiable,” Ammiano said. “My druthers are that we do look at sentencing and determinate sentencing. There are obviously areas we can negotiate on.”

Then there’s the question of where people could buy it. Most models point to a highly-regulated distribution system, perhaps akin to the state-run liquor stores in Washington State.

There could also be major local differences. There’s already been a decade of testing on what this might look like, in the form of the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been operating since California voters passed Proposition 215 by a wide margin in 1996. Some areas, particularly Los Angeles, have reported significant problems, with a large number of dispensaries operating. The more likely model might be West Hollywood, which operates a small number of heavily-regulated but thriving operations.

“What it’s going to look like in the future will entirely depend on the locals,” said Dale Clare, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam.

Clare also said that they’re set to pass half a million signatures on their initiative by next week. Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee has been quoted saying they will be able to marshal $20 million in donations to the initiative once it lands on next year’s ballot—a figure likely to be countered by millions from group’s opposing the measure.

Clare also points to an April Field Poll that found that 56 percent of voters would approve a legalization measure. This conflicts with a Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll earlier this month that found likely voters opposed such a measure, 52 percent to 38 percent.

But the trend lines are clearly headed towards legalization. A February article on the popular political blog said that support for marijuana legalization nationwide had passed the 40 percent threshold. Given greater support among younger voters and greatest opposition from older ones, “legalization would achieve 60 percent support at some point in 2022 or 2023,” according to author Nate Silver.

“If it goes to the ballot and fails, we’re that much closer for 2012,” Clare said. “This is an education campaign.”

With a philosophy seemingly diametrically opposed to that of elected law enforcement officials in Los Angeles, the attorney general of Colorado, John Suthers (a Republican), has advised the governor of that state that medical marijuana sales should be regulated and taxed like alcohol and tobacco (and not tax- exempt like pharmaceuticals are, as medical cannabis is not prescribed per se, but “recommended” by doctors). This plan seems consistent with the stark reality in these dark times that state and county governments need to seek new avenues of public funding that will not prove to be politically unpopular. Medical cannabis activists have long been pro-taxation, as it confers legitimacy on the space.

The taxation of medical marijuana sales is something that we hear a lot about in California, and the above graphic gives some idea of how much money would be left on the table should medical marijuana be banned — or merely hounded and harassed out of business– here in Los Angeles. City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley have declared their intentions to continue fighting the medical marijuana dispensaries, but it’s important to keep in mind that 77% of Los Angeles residents indicated that they were for the regulation and taxation of dispensaries, according to a recent Mason-Dixon poll.

No matter what sort of spin you put on the issue, ignoring the revenue-creating potential of taxing cannabis sales — which will continue, legally or otherwise — hardly seems prudent when we live in an era in which local governments can’t afford to fix potholes or hire schoolteachers.

By Richard Metzger Source.

November 16, 2009 – As countless medical-marijuana dispensaries proliferate throughout the state, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers on Monday said “yes” to the question of taxing pot.

“Colorado law is clear: Medical marijuana, in most instances, should be subject to state and local sales taxes,” Suthers said. “This formal opinion should help clear up many of the uncertainties surrounding the taxation of medical marijuana.”

Suthers issued the opinion amid confusion about whether medical pot can be taxed since the drug is still illegal under federal law, but permitted for legal medical use in the state of Colorado under a voter-approved constitutional provision, Amendment 20.

But Suthers added that many other questions surrounding medical marijuana and Amendment 20 will have to be resolved by the courts or Colorado legislators, who are considering new laws to rein in the wildly growing cottage industry.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s recent announcement that users and providers of medical marijuana won’t be prosecuted if they comply with state law has kindled interest in the drug as a business opportunity.

In Colorado, where voters approved Amendment 20 in 2000, the Justice Department’s announcement has fired up interest in medical marijuana dispensaries — establishments that cultivate and distribute marijuana for patients with certain medical conditions.

But the relaxed stance from the feds left some uncertainty about whether dispensaries can be taxed for selling their product.

Denver City Councilman Charlie Brown wants to subject dispensaries to a 3.62 percent sales tax — providing some much needed dollars for the city. But some law enforcement officers questioned the legality of collecting tax on a substance that is still considered illegal under federal law.

Although prescription drugs are exempt from taxation under Colorado law, Suthers noted that because medical marijuana is not a drug that is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it isn’t prescribed. Therefore, doesn’t fall under the exemption. by Bob Mook. Source.

November 16, 2009 – California is in serious financial trouble, fueling the most recent push to legalize and tax marijuana to help balance the state budget. But alberto-torrico-cali-assemblyman1what’s left out of these calculations is the health and safety of the patients who rely on medical marijuana.

While I am a supporter of medical marijuana, a decision to legalize a powerful drug in order to balance our budget would be a critical mistake and would jeopardize public safety. Even in the midst of this fiscal crisis, we need to focus on providing safe medicine, not just grasping for any available revenue source.

There is strong scientific evidence that marijuana helps ease the symptoms of a number of serious illnesses, from AIDS to cancer, and it should be available under a doctor’s prescription. Californians are united in their desire to see this safe and effective medicine delivered to those who need it.

But turning this powerful medicine into a revenue source is wrong.

The proponents of legalization point out that marijuana is already widely used. But just because a powerful medicine has been adopted for recreational purposes, partially through flaws in our medical marijuana delivery system, does not mean recreational use should be legalized. It means that the system should be reformed and better regulated.

Right now, there are no meaningful statewide regulations on medical marijuana production, delivery or use. Overseeing the exploding number of marijuana dispensaries and collectives rests with county authorities. This has left a patchwork system that is clearly being abused, as seen in the mounting evidence that criminal cartels are starting to supply, or even control, some of the dispensaries.

The time has come for strong statewide oversight of the medical marijuana system.

First and foremost, we need to protect access to safe medicine for those who need it. That means implementing consistent regulations guarding against cannabis tainted with pesticides and other dangerous substances. The practice of providing medicine that contains dangerous and cancer-causing impurities can be ended only through a system of state testing and rigorous control.

There is also no state oversight of doctor recommendations written for marijuana or consistent regulation of its use. If a doctor started writing hundreds of prescriptions for one drug such, as OxyContin, federal regulators would investigate. But doctors can write thousands, or even tens of thousands, of “recommendations” for medical marijuana with no oversight at all.

Even when there are legitimate doctor recommendations, there are no consistent regulations for how much cannabis can be purchased, at what price and at what potency. Imagine going to a pharmacy to buy a medication and having to “test” to learn the potency of that drug. But that’s what medical marijuana patients must do — find the proper dose through a system of trial and error.

There are no meaningful statewide regulations for security in cannabis collectives. No oversight as to where they can be located or how many one community should be required to host. No statewide standards over how much cannabis can be purchased for medical use at one time. No meaningful control over who is operating these clubs or their qualifications to do so. And until recently, no meaningful efforts to close the numerous “dispensaries” that have sprung up in violation of even the weak existing regulations.

In short, we are tolerating a dangerous system that threatens the health of patients and the public safety for all Californians.

We’re not going to solve this problem by “normalizing” an illegal drug. We need tough regulations that make safe cannabis available to those who need it and unavailable to those who are seeking to abuse it.

ALBERTO TORRICO, D-Fremont, is majority leader of the California State Assembly. He wrote this article for the Mercury News. By Alberto Torrico.

Richard Lee, President of Oaksterdam University helped convince Oakland voters to tax medical marijuana dispensaries and make them more legit. Now he’s taking the idea state-wide through the initiative.

November 4, 2009 – With the national debate over how–or even whether–to legalize marijuana now hitting a fevered pitch, many eyes are focused squarely on Colorado, where lawmakers aremarijuana-medical now considering proposals to increase regulation of the state’s vibrant medical marijuana industry.

Unfortunately, emotion is trumping fact in too much of this public debate. In a guest column carried in today’s Denver Post (authored by Robert and titled “Stop the Medical Marijuana Madness”), as well as through previous commentary we’ve authored, we lament how a handful of powerful politicians, including some of our fellow Republicans, are using antecdotes, half-truths, and unfounded theories, to make their case for cumbersome regulation, including moratoriums that could prevent new dispensaries from opening at all.

In doing so, these officials are ignoring other critical public policy needs and basic facts proving that the hysteria around the tremendous growth in public demand for medical marijuana is not based in fact. While some regulation of any industry may be appropriate at times, medical marijuana is being unfairly villianized by those who disagree with the state’s voters, who have consistently and overwhelmingly maintained a commitment to patient access to such treatment.

From today’s Denver Post:

Most elected leaders have a good sense of proportion regarding this issue. A minority of politicians, however, avoid reasonable proposals to tax and regulate marijuana, and instead irresponsibly fear-monger in the worst tradition of Prohibition-era ‘Reefer Madness’ propaganda. We hear racially charged tales of ‘Mexican cartels’ supposedly running the medical marijuana business, when the truth is Colorado homegrown marijuana puts foreign cartels out of business, and it is law enforcement that enriches cartels through hostility to medical marijuana.

Even putting aside the state’s serious economic woes, any focus on medical marijuana should be far down the list when it comes to the serious health care concerns we face. Today, Colorado is one of more than a dozen states where fatal prescription drug overdoses now outnumber deaths from car accidents.

Doctors across the state mourn the epidemic of “doctor shopping,” powerless against preventing patients who have become addicted to prescription narcotics from seeking out multiple prescriptions from different doctors to feed their addictions. The game can become fatal very quickly. And despite this shocking trend, which has resulted in a three-fold increase in prescription drug deaths over just the last decade, anti-marijuana activists publicly express little, if any, concern.

Instead, they continue to blast medical marijuana dispensaries, ignoring their many benefits, including the revitalization of struggling communities, the addition of much needed jobs, as well as the significant tax revenue they provide for municipal coffers. More importantly, they ignore the value of businesses providing alternative medical treatment for our sick and dying, many of whom seek such treatment only after years of living in the haze of pharmaceutical narcotic addiction. While the vast majority of medical marijuana patients abide by the system to the letter of law, activists exploit the stories of a few battle apples as a way to enhance their pro-prohibition polemic.

For legislators eager to villanize medical marijuana providers and their patients, we’d suggest they proceed with caution. Most dispensary owners are astute business entrepreneurs; they welcome commonsense standards as a way to best serve their own economic interests, as well as the interests of the patients they serve. Attacking them without getting the facts will only stunt a productive dialogue on regulation.

In addition, legislators should expect resistance from voters in this era where public support for both medical marijuana and outright legalization has grown substantially over the last decade, and today is greater than ever before.

In 2000, a strong majority of voters first amended our state Constitution to allow for legal access to medical marijuana. In 2006, more than 40 percent supported a statewide initiative seeking outright legalization of adult marijuana use. While Republicans voters in Colorado still outnumber Democrats by a slim margin, the 2006 legalization effort received more voter support than that year’s Republican candidate for governor.

Nationally, polls show that a growing number of voters of all ideological persuasions in other states are interested in following Colorado’s lead. A national media survey conducted earlier this year shows that nearly half of Americans support legalization. If legalization advocates can convince just one more voter in every ten, marijuana prohibition could quickly become a thing of a past in many states, including Colorado.

As proud Republicans and even prouder parents of two young children, we’re seen as unconventional legalization supporters by many. If we can open minds, we relish the role. But as the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker recently noted, we’re actually far from alone in our views among free thinkers within our party.

Republicans committed to our party’s founding ideals of individual rights and responsibility should join us. During a FOX News interview yesterday profiling our efforts, we reiterated this commitment. We will not stand by complacently as our federal government wastes our tax dollars to continue a prohibition that costs billions each year and results in 850,000 Americans each year being forced into to our criminal justice system for marijuana-related offenses. In these tough economic times, we owe our children better than to accept the status quo.

Colorado stands at center stage in the national debate over marijuana. In the face of such controversy, we ask those on all sides of the debate to commit to just one thing: let’s stick to the facts. With emotions running high and our federal debt running even higher, now is the time to leave no stone unturned in the effort to restore our nation to a place of solid fiscal and philosophical foundations. Our children’s future depends on it. By Jessica Peck Corry and Robert J. Corry, Jr. Source.