California Lawmaker Reintroduces Landmark Legislation to Tax and Regulate Marijuana

Press Release February 17, 2010
Media Contact

Stephen Gutwillig at (323) 542-2606 or Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384

Sacramento — California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano has reintroduced his landmark bill to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. The first bill of its kind in the nation, its introduction in 2009 culminated in its historic passage by the Assembly Public Safety Committee last month. While the bill ran out of time for further consideration by the Legislature, Ammiano has re-submitted it for the 2010 session. It will go before the Public Safety and the Health Committees of the Assembly in the next two months. Following Ammiano’s example, lawmakers in Washington and New Hampshire introduced similar bills last year.

“Just look at what is happening in our state and it’s obvious that the existing model of prohibition has been a tragic failure,” said Assembly Member Ammiano. “Our prisons are overflowing and it’s easier now for teenagers to get marijuana than alcohol. But yet we continue to spend our limited resources on a failed war on drugs instead of education, health care or job training. With this bill, California can finally have a policy towards marijuana that reflects reality.”

“This bill is the most innovative and expansive approach to regulating marijuana in the country today,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “More and more states are following California’s lead and seriously considering alternatives to failed marijuana policies that waste billions of dollars and needlessly criminalize millions of Americans. Assembly Member Ammiano is at the front of the pack, demanding a meaningful conversation about ending marijuana prohibition.”

According to federal estimates, marijuana is the state’s largest cash crop (worth double the vegetable and grape yield combined) and is consumed by nearly 10% of Californians every year. In 2008, more than 78,000 Californians were arrested for marijuana offenses, nearly 80% for simple possession. The Ammiano legislation would create a regulatory structure similar to that for alcohol, regulating sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21. The California Board of Equalization estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from fees, sales and excise taxes under the proposed legislation. That revenue would be directed toward drug education and treatment programs, which have been severely cut amid the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis. According to a 2009 Field poll, 56 percent of Californians supports legalizing marijuana. Proponents of an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in California recently submitted sufficient signatures to place it on November’s general election ballot this year.

“It’s time to end the charade and profound social harms of marijuana prohibition, tax the $14 billion market, and redirect criminal justice resources to matters of real public safety. Last year Assemblyman Ammiano did the state an enormous service by breaking the silence on this commonsense solution. With his leadership, marijuana reform will remain on the front burner in Sacramento,” said Gutwillig.

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