California Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, announced legislation on Feb. 23 that would make California the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education act, also known as AB 390, would make it legal for anyone over the age of 21 to grow, buy, possess and sell marijuana. AB 390 would levy a tax of $50 per ounce of marijuana, which would help to stabilize the California budget by raising about $1 billion annually in tax revenue, according to Ammiano. California lawmakers voted to close the state’s $42 billion budget deficit on Feb. 20.
The marijuana industry in California brings in an estimated $14 billion each year, making it easily the most profitable crop in the state, more than both grapes and vegetables combined.
California is no stranger to marijuana legislation, being the first state to legalize medicinal use of marijuana in 1996. This is the first bill that has ever been introduced to legalize marijuana, however.
John Lovell, legislative counsel for the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, doesn’t see legalizing marijuana as realistic.
“This is one of those bills that get a lot of press,” said Lovell. “But at the end of the day, we don’t think it’s going to pass.”
Lovell said the $50 tax on marijuana will be ineffective because legal taxable marijuana will not be competitive with the illegal trade. AB 390 does not address this issue.
“If you’re going to buy coffee at Starbucks,” he said, “and all of the sudden there’s a $50 surcharge, and another place doesn’t have that charge, guess where you’ll buy your coffee?”
Lovell also claims that AB 390 would affect the chances California would have in attaining federal business grants, which call for a drug-free working environment. With marijuana legalized, a drug-free environment cannot be feasibly enforced, he said.
According to Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), California is already reaping the benefits of medicinal marijuana.
“If cannabis was made legal proper, the state would see tens of millions a day in new tax revenue,” said St. Pierre in an e-mail interview. “The only thing stopping the taxing and legally controlling of one of the state’s most valuable cash crops is political leadership.”
Legalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement to focus on harder drugs such as methamphetamine, St. Pierre said. AB 390 would also allow for the cultivation of hemp for industrial and manufacturing purposes.
Ammiano is in only his third month as a state assemblyman. Geoffrey Wandesforde-Smith, professor emeritus of political science at UC Davis, said he sees the bill as a way for Ammiano to get attention.
“Mr. Ammiano was looking for an opportunity to make a statement,” he said in an e-mail interview. “And a simple Google search shows that he attracted a great deal of attention.”
Lovell remains unconvinced of the benefits of marijuana legalization.
“The last thing we need in our community is another mind-altering substance,” he said.
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.