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 KeepComingBack.com—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.

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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 FiveThirtyEight.com 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.”

October 29, 2009 – SACRAMENTO — Marijuana legalization advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out in a three-hour legislative hearing Wednesday on whether making the drug legal under state law would be good public policy.schwarzenegger_marijuana_debate

Advocates said legalization and regulation could bring as much as $1.4 billion in state and local excise and sales tax revenue per year; control the drug’s potency; do more to keep it out of children’s hands; and end a century long double standard in which alcohol and tobacco — which they say are more harmful — are legal while marijuana isn’t, leading to a war on drugs particularly destructive to people of color.

Law enforcement officials testified the harms caused by marijuana legalization would far outweigh whatever tax revenue it might bring — more, not less, use by children; more people driving under the influence, causing more injuries and deaths; decreased worker productivity that could hurt the economy; and a still-thriving black market.

The hearing was convened by Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who earlier this year introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana under a system not unlike that used for alcohol. Even as several proposed ballot measures for legalization seek to qualify for next year’s ballot, Ammiano is rewriting his bill to bring it forward again in January, and Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to help him gather input for that revamp.

First up Wednesday were the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said state and local law enforcement could save “several tens of millions of dollars each year” by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, and the Board of Equalization, which has estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana.

Then came the lawyers. Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Allen Hopper testified California is free to criminalize or not criminalize whatever it wants, and can and should chart its own course as a laboratory for new social and economic policy.

But Martin Mayer, general counsel to the California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, underscored there would be no protection from federal law enforcement agencies arresting, charging and prosecuting Californians for violating the federal marijuana ban.

California Peace Officers’ Association President John Standish said there’s “no way marijuana legalization could protect or promote society — in fact, it radically diminishes it” by impairing educational ability, worker productivity, traffic safety and drug-related crime rates.

Ammiano asked whether police resources now used to fight marijuana would be better spent fighting harder, more harmful drugs such as methamphetamine.

“That’s like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ Standish replied, calling marijuana and methamphetamine “both equally critical problems our society needs to address.”

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California’s major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There’s no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at renowned think-tank RAND Corp., said prohibition has kept marijuana prices high, and legalization with heavy taxation that elevates marijuana’s price far above the cost of its production will lead to a thriving black market.

But Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair said arrest statistics from the past 20 years show California law enforcement is far more focused on prosecuting simple possession and use than cultivation and sales. Various counties are more or less tolerant of marijuana use, he said, a lack of consistency and continuity that could be solved by regulation.

And retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said the state can allow and regulate marijuana without condoning its use just like alcohol and tobacco, but any legalization legislation must ban advertising lest marijuana use become glamorized. By Josh Richman. Source.

September 27, 2009 – In 1996, voters in California approved a referendum that made it legal for the first time in decades in the US for people to consume cannabis for medicinal purposes.

More than a dozen states have followed suit since and several others – the most recent of which is Picture 8Massachusetts – have approved laws decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of the drug.

Now, there are moves afoot in California to go further to fully legalize marijuana.

Evidence of the impact that the approval of medicinal marijuana has had on some areas of California is clear in Oakland.

Across the bay from San Francisco, it has come to be known as Oaksterdam, in a nod to the symbolic global capital of marijuana deregulation, Amsterdam.

The relaxed approach to marijuana use in this part of Oakland has led to the opening of several marijuana dispensaries.

They are establishments in this once deprived area of town which sell a broad array of cannabis related products, from food products such as brownies and cereal bars laced with cannabis to traditional marijuana for smoking.

Oaksterdam University

“This is where it all started,” says Richard Lee, a leading advocate for the legalization of cannabis, pointing to a building where the first ever dispensary was opened in 1996.

His sense of excitement is palpable as he shows me around Oaksterdam, which beyond dispensaries is also home to a facility where state residents can go through the process of getting the ID needed for their right to use cannabis for medical purposes.

The area is also home to the Oaksterdam University, which Mr Lee runs.Picture 9

He shows me around the student union of the university, which he describes as a trade school for all of those interested in finding a place in the thriving cannabis trade that medicinal marijuana has spawned.

Mr Lee tells me that making cannabis use legal makes economic sense but would also help in the fight against the Mexican drugs cartels.

“According to some estimates, the Mexican cartels get about 60-70% of their money – their profit – from cannabis,” he tells me.

“So if we cut that out of the equation then theoretically 60-70% of the violence they perpetrate would be cut out, because they’d have less money for the guns and weapons and ammunition to kill people and to spend on bribing officials and all the rest,” Mr Lee says.

Trailblazing

That perspective, along with the fact that the California state authorities estimate that marijuana could bring in nearly $1.5bn a year in much needed tax revenue if it were legalised, has led to an increased support among the state’s voters for the full legalization of the drug.

And, politicians like Tom Ammiano, who represents one of the most liberal districts of San Francisco in the California state assembly, have been paying close attention.

Mr Ammiano came into politics as a trailblazing gay rights activist in the 1970s and has long advocated greater tolerance for cannabis use.

Earlier this year, he took that approach one step further and introduced a bill in the California state assembly, which, if approved, would grant cannabis the same legal status in the state as alcohol and tobacco.

That would put California ahead of even Amsterdam, where marijuana use is tolerated but not altogether legal.Picture 10

Sitting with him in his office in the state government building in San Francisco, with its sweeping views of the city, it becomes very clear that his proposal is far from a flight of fancy.

He tells me he has been finding that more and more of his colleagues in the state assembly are coming around to seeing why moving towards legalization makes perfect sense.

‘Lighten up’

“People across the board, whether they’re conservative or liberal, have come to realize that the so-called war on drugs has failed and failed miserably,” Mr Ammiano says.

“In fact, it’s costing us money instead of saving us money. This new approach would be a way for the policing efforts to be focused on the big bad guys, the cartels, with their violence and murder, and lighten up on the more minor offenses. We like to say prohibition is chaos and regulation is control,” he adds.

“On the streets a drug dealer does not ask a kid for his ID before selling him cannabis,” he concludes with an acerbic, humorous tone that serves as proof that he has, beyond politics, also had some success in his other career as a stand-up comedian.

But, despite his optimistic tone, Mr Ammiano says that he knows that those who oppose his proposal, including key figures in the medical and law enforcement community, are armed with statistics pointing to the damaging long-term effect of the drug and have the stamina and resources to wage a major fight to ensure that the bill never gets signed into law.

One of those opponents of the proposal is Ronald Brooks, the president of the National Narcotic Officers’ Associations’ Coalition, which represents more than 70,000 narcotics enforcement officers in the US.

We meet in the town of Redwood City, south of San Francisco, and as I get in his car, we drive past what appears to be a nondescript office building.

‘Seriously flawed’

However, he tells me that, in the 1980s, it was a bank – the place where his partner on the police force was killed in front of him by a ruthless marijuana dealer, who was carrying out a bank robbery to fund his drug business.

He says experiences like that have strengthened his resolve that America can’t allow itself to take on a more lenient approach to marijuana.

“This argument of freeing up law enforcement so that we can take on the cartels is seriously flawed,” he tells me.

“This is really a hoax being perpetrated on the voters of California to authorize their political Picture 11agenda – that is to legalize marijuana as one step to legalize drugs in America because they simply don’t think that the government ought to control drugs,” he adds.

“The people who are going to lose if this gets approved are the taxpayers because we’re going to have increased costs associated with this, both healthcare and law enforcement costs, and the people who have to drive on the state’s highways who are going to be in danger from being hit by someone intoxicated from using cannabis. This is simply a reckless public policy,” he concludes.

Back across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, specifically Oaksterdam, the patrons of the Bulldog Cafe are enjoying their legally sanctioned right to consume marijuana for medicinal purposes.

Emerging industry

Gary has traveled from Texas for the weekend to attend a seminar on the cannabis trade at the Oaksterdam University across the street.

He is in his 50s, but says he is hoping to take the information he has picked up in his course on the cannabis business and make a life-transforming move in the coming months to California.

“My girlfriend and I are interested in moving to California from Texas to become a part of this here. We’re not quite sure where we fit in but we want to get into the business itself. We feel it’s an emerging industry, and this is where I feel compelled to come,” he tells me as the smell of cannabis wafts through the room.

Like Gary, there are hundreds of others participating in the courses at the Oaksterdam University on any given week.

Beyond that, there are more than 200,000 people in the state registered as consumers of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

As for Mr Ammiano’s proposal to legalize marijuana in the state, that is still making its way through the California state assembly and it is difficult to say whether it will succeed or not.

What is clear, however, is that whatever the outcome of the legalization proposal, the medical marijuana law and the multi-million dollar industry it has spawned appear to be here to stay in California. By Emilio San Pedro. Source.

August 24, 2009 – In these tough financial times, states and local municipalities are struggling to find new and creative ways to generate money to close budget gaps.schwarzenegger_smoking_joint

In the state of California, some legislators are turning to another kind of green to generate some that can be spent.

With an estimated $14 billion worth of marijuana being sold in California annually, one state assemblyman sees an opportunity missed and is attempting to smoke out some additional revenue.

LEGALIZATION WITH TAXATION

On Feb. 23, first-term legislator Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill called the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education act which would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21.

“With the state in the midst of an historic economic crisis, the move toward 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,” Ammiano said in a press release earlier this year. “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.”

Since its introduction, the bill has been shelved, although Ammiano said it will be re-introduced in the next legislative session.

Even as the bill’s future is uncertain, the conversation about legalizing marijuana in order to regulate and tax it is ongoing.

TAXING MEDICAL MARIJUANA

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 which allowed for medical marijuana to be possessed and used by people with a valid prescription from their doctor. Since then, 12 other states have enacted medical marijuana legislation although specific laws do vary from state-to-state.

In California however, the medical marijuana dispensaries are regulated and taxed at a rate which varies from place to place. Some cities and towns collect fees from the businesses while others don’t, and the businesses are often seen as residing in the shadows, according to Dan Bernath, the assistant director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington-based lobbying firm.

Oakland voters overwhelmingly approved a measure in July that will increase the tax imposed on the dispensaries from $1.20 per $1,000 in business revenues to $18 per $1,000 under a new cannabis business tax classification, creating an estimated increase of $294,000 in revenue per year.

“It’s not often that you see people coming out to say they want to be taxed, but the dispensaries are eager to pay their fair share,” Bernath said. “They’ve been marginalized in a way and the special tax designation in Oakland finally legitimizes their business.”

MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

In the TV show Weeds, which can be seen on Showtime, a suburban single mother sells marijuana in order to support her two children and pay the mortgage on the home that she and her husband bought before he passed away.

She attends her youngest son’s soccer games and sells bags of marijuana to lawyers, doctors, teachers, city councilmen and others considered society’s most respected and influential.

And despite what some people may believe, that theatrical presentation may not be far from the truth.

“The truth is that there isn’t just one kind of person using marijuana in the U.S. – it’s used mostly by people who are otherwise law-abiding citizens,” Bernath said. “The preconceptions that people have show the general misunderstanding out there about marijuana and who uses it.”

Bernath cited federal surveys which concluded what many were thinking all along – more people are using marijuana than you might think.

“Around 15 million people have said they use marijuana every month, 25 million said they use it every year and over 100 million people said they have used it in their lifetime,” he said. “That’s about 40 percent of the population – not some small group of people.”

And although marijuana use among teenagers is down, according to federal data released over the last few years, the general trend has been a 35-year increase.

“The fact that 85 percent of teenagers said that marijuana was easier to get than alcohol shows that regulation is a better alternative to prohibition,” Bernath said. “Since we started cracking down on asking for I.D. to buy alcohol and cigarettes, the rates of teens using them have declined, and a lot of tax money is being made.”

It has been argued that legalizing marijuana would only drive some users further underground in an attempt to avoid taxation, but Bernath suggests legalization would actually lower marijuana prices – even with a steep tax added on.

“It is not a hard plant to cultivate but when you are at risk from law enforcement for doing so, it increases the price – resulting in an inflated market,” he said. “Legalization would ensure that marijuana is regulated by the government instead of drug dealers, which would mean it has less of a chance of getting to children. And although the tax money wouldn’t be the sole solution to the budget woes everywhere, it would begin collecting money that is out of reach at this point.” By Robert Rizzuto. Source.

(CBS) – August 3, 2009 – There is talk in California of what you could call a radical idea for the cash-poor state to raise money. It’s controversial, but Picture 5proponents say the plan could smoke out more than a billion dollars for the state, as CBS News correspondent John Blackstone reports.

It is an unusual commercial: taxpayers demanding a new tax. It’s an offer by marijuana users to help the state’s battered budget.

“We’re marijuana consumers. We want to pay our fair share.”

It’s estimated that $14 billion worth of marijuana is sold illegally in the state. Making it legal and taxing it at $50 dollars an ounce would bring in approximately $1.4 billion a year. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has been pushing the idea.

“I thought it was high time – no pun intended – that this was on the table,” he said.

As many see it, marijuana is already virtually legal in California where state law allows it for medical use.

At one Los Angeles dispensary, The Farmacy, the cannabis comes in buds so you can smoke it of course, but you don’t have to. There’s also cookies and candy bars, also drinks with cannabis as the active ingredient, and gelato – so you can take your medicine like ice cream or lollipops.

One dispensary gave out free pot to anyone with a valid prescription. The line was out the door.

While many doctors say marijuana has valid medical uses, like treating nausea in chemotherapy patients, critics say California’s medical marijuana dispensaries sell the drug to almost anyone.

Predict: Marijuana Nation
Will any state legalize marijuana by the end of 2009?
“That system is a sham,” said Bernard Melekian of the California Police Chiefs Association. “98 percent of the people who are acquiring marijuana at these dispensaries do not appear to have the conditions for which the law was intended to apply.”

At a dispensary in L.A., users claim a wide array of ailments – chronic neck pain, an ankle injury that required 10 screws and a metal plate, and so forth.

In Oakland, a patient named Charles says marijuana is good for his mental health. “It relieves my anxiety and allows me to cope,” he said.

Users in Oakland now pay a special city tax on medical marijuana – a first in the state, but maybe not the last. Marijuana tax promoters say a lot of potential revenue is just going up in smoke. By John Blackstone. Source.

July 29, 2009 – SAN FRANCISCO — Oakland pot activists fresh off a victory at local polls on the taxing of medical marijuana took their first official step Tuesday oaksterdam1toward asking California voters to legalize pot.

A proposed ballot measure filed with the California attorney general’s office would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot. Homeowners could grow marijuana for personal use on garden plots up to 25 square feet.

The measure’s main backer is Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, who helped push a first-of-its-kind tax on city medical marijuana dispensaries that passed with 80 percent of the vote last week.

The statewide measure needs nearly 434,000 signatures to make the November 2010 ballot.

“It’s one more pretty amazing element in the momentum toward ending statewide prohibition,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance.

His group would rather wait until 2012 to build more support for a ballot initiative but would be happy with an earlier victory, he said.

A similar but less restrictive pot legalization initiative was filed two weeks ago by a group of Northern California criminal defense lawyers.

The Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 2010 would set no specific limits on the amount of pot adults could possess or grow for personal use. The measure would repeal all local and state marijuana laws and clear the criminal record of anyone convicted of a pot-related offense.

Both ballot measures would be competing with a bill introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

The San Francisco Democrat is pushing legalization as a way to generate revenue for the cash-starved state from California’s massive marijuana industry. He plans to hold hearings on the legislation this fall. By MARCUS WOHLSEN. Source.