California Activists File Ballot Initiative to Legalize Marijuana

Press Release July 27, 2009
Media Contact

Stephen Gutwillig at 323-542-2606 or Tommy McDonald at 646-335-2242

Oakland-based activists have filed a ballot initiative with the Attorney General that would legalize marijuana in California and allow counties to establish local systems to tax and regulate the plant and its products. Activists have 150 days from filing to gather 434,000 signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot in November 2010. The initiative is being spearheaded by medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University.

“The momentum to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition just keeps building,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “While the Drug Policy Alliance would prefer such an initiative to appear on the ballot in 2012, when public support will likely be even greater than it is now, we’d of course like to see it win. There’s simply no denying the intense groundswell for change.”

Within the last several months, California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano introduced a bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said marijuana legalization should be considered and debated, Oakland voters overwhelmingly adopted an initiative to tax medical marijuana, and for the first time ever in a statewide Field Poll, a majority of California voters – 56 percent – expressed support for legalizing and taxing marijuana. Outside the state, New York Gov. David Paterson joined Schwarzenegger’s call, Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard suggested national policymakers debate marijuana legalization as a way to cripple both Mexican and U.S. gangs, and an ABC News/Washington Post poll found 46 percent of Americans nationwide now favor legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, more than double its level 12 years ago.

The state Board of Equalization concluded that California would generate $1.4 billion dollars in new annual revenue if Assembly Member Ammiano’s bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol (AB 390) were adopted. According to the Attorney General, 74,119 Californians were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2007 (nearly 17,000 under the age of 18). 78 percent of all arrests were misdemeanors. Marijuana arrests in California increased nearly 25 percent since 2005 while arrests for all other controlled substances, and most violent crimes, fell. The Drug Policy Alliance estimates the costs incurred by California’s criminal justice system as a result of current marijuana prohibition laws to be nearly $260 million a year.

“Our wasteful, punitive marijuana laws sustain a massive, increasingly violent underground economy, make criminals out of millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens, waste scarce law enforcement resources, and rob tax-payers of billions in potential revenue,” said Gutwillig. “Whether by the hand of lawmakers or a fed-up electorate, these laws are going to change.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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