For the first time in California history, a legislative committee voted this month in favor of legalizing marijuana.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 along party lines to approve a bill by Rep. Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would regulate marijuana like alcohol, allowing people over the age of 21 to possess up to an ounce of the plant. The state would collect a tax of $50 per ounce of pot from licensed producers and distributors.
Unfortunately, the bill is now dead. The legislative calendar began anew this month, meaning that any unfinished business from the last session will remain unfinished. Nonetheless, the committee vote was a significant step toward lasting drug policy reform in California.
Many drug law reformers are now turning their attention to a ballot measure being circulated that would essentially do the same thing as the bill. Supporters of the measure are calling it Tax Cannabis 2010, and they say they’ve already gathered enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot this November.
That’s promising, as are the numerous public opinion polls that have found majority support for legalizing marijuana in California. A public vote to legalize marijuana would send an incredibly strong message and would likely galvanize congressional representatives to start applying pressure on the Obama administration to address its federal drug policies.
But we can’t simply wait and hope for the voters to pull through. Ammiano should reintroduce the bill soon so that it has a chance of making it further through the legislature this year.
In terms of money, it’s a good idea. The California State Board of Equalization analyzed Ammiano’s bill and found it could generate as much as $1.4 billion per year in tax revenue. That money could obviously be put to good use in a state crippled by chronic budget deficits.
In terms of strategy, it’s a must. Pundits are predicting a backlash against a Democratic-controlled Congress and an Obama White House. Voters at the polls this November will most likely be more conservative than they were in 2008, and it’s quite possible they won’t be as friendly to the measure as many are expecting. For this reason alone Ammiano should reintroduce the bill.
California is closer than ever before to correcting its flawed drug policy. Supporters of this reform shouldn’t put all their eggs in one basket.