We thought it was fairly bold when Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced in February a bill to make it legal for adults to possess, cultivate and use marijuana, or cannabis (and impose a special tax of $50 per ounce).
The movement seems to be on fast-forward. Advocates have just submitted an initiative to the state attorney general to regulate cannabis very much as alcohol is currently regulated. Adults 21 or older would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, while furnishing cannabis to minors would still be punished. Driving under the influence, smoking in public places, possession on school grounds and other activities that impact others would still be illegal. People would be allowed to grow their own in a space of 25 square feet or less to minimize effects on neighbors.
We talked to Richard Lee, the primary sponsor of the measure. He is proprietor of a medical cannabis dispensary in Oakland and head of what he calls Oaksterdam University, which has classes and courses on growing cannabis for medical purposes, on complying with California's medical marijuana laws and related topics. He told us the campaign has hired a professional signature-gathering firm and has raised about half the $1 million that effort will probably cost.
According to a recent Field Poll, about 56 percent of Californians believe that marijuana should be legal for adults, and not only for medical purposes. Cannabis is less physiologically dangerous than either alcohol or tobacco, and the laws prohibiting it have created expansive social damage. Not only do the laws undermine respect for the law among the millions of people who have tried it and enrich unscrupulous and violent people, they are a huge contributor to the tragic loss of life we have seen in Mexico — about 11,000 deaths since 2006 — as the government has decided to make the war on drugs a real shooting war, one it seems unable to win.
Tax authorities have estimated that Mr. Ammiano's proposal would increase state revenue by about $1.3 billion, while eliminating about $500 million in enforcement costs, which would be a step in the right direction at a time of budget crisis in California. The full impact of the proposed initiative has not yet been analyzed, but there's little question that it would help to resolve the budget emergency.
We wish the signature gatherers well.