Historic Legislative Hearing Examines Marijuana Legalization in California

Press Release October 27, 2009
Media Contact

Stephen Gutwillig at (323) 542-2606 or Tommy McDonald

SACRAMENTO — A committee of the California Assembly convened an unprecedented public hearing today to formally consider ending marijuana prohibition. The hearing — entitled “Examining the Fiscal and Legal Implication of the Legalization and Regulation of Marijuana” — was presided over by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano, chair of the Assembly Public Safety Committee and author of California’s landmark marijuana regulation bill (AB 390). This hearing was the most prominent legislative consideration of marijuana legalization in American history.

“It’s hard to overstate the significance of this hearing. It’s the first legislative discussion in the U.S. about using state regulation to take control of the massive marijuana market away from criminal syndicates,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a sponsor of AB 390. “Regulating marijuana means California will stop making criminals out of millions of responsible adults, redirect scarce law enforcement resources, generate new tax revenue and reduce youth access. I applaud Assembly Member Ammiano’s leadership for convening this historic hearing.”

“Today’s hearing puts California on the cusp of an historic opportunity with this long overdue discussion of how best to regulate and tax marijuana,” said Ammiano. “The reality is clear – the existing model of prohibition has failed and across the country, the call for a new direction in our drug policy grows louder every day. It is time to take our heads out of the sand and start to regulate this $14 billion industry. By doing so, we can enact smart public policy that will bring much needed revenue into the state and improve public safety by allowing our vital law enforcement resources to be used more wisely. The move toward regulation is simply common sense.”

The committee heard three hours of testimony and public comment from a range of marijuana legalization advocates and opponents. Witnesses advocating an end to decades of failed marijuana policy included:

Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego who said, “As an Episcopal priest who has worked in the field of addiction for more than 20 years, I have witnessed the devastation to our communities, especially communities of color. This so-called war on drugs is really a war on the poor. Our marijuana laws are not decreasing marijuana use, but they are causing more harm than good by empowering dangerous criminals and ensuring that our youth continue to have the easiest access of anyone.”

Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray who said, “From my 25 years on the trial court bench, I can tell you that marijuana prohibition has put our children directly in harm’s way for at least two reasons. First, it is easier for our young people to get marijuana than it is alcohol, because today the illicit dealers don’t ask for ID. And second, because of marijuana prohibition, adult marijuana dealers are recruiting our young people to sell these drugs because then everyone makes more money, and our kids naturally sell to their peers — thus recruiting more children to a lifestyle of drug using, and drug selling. This is not a pretty sight to see.”

Former District Attorney San Francisco Terence Hallinan who said, “Our current marijuana policy has created a whole level of illegality and violence and leads to police corruption. ” and “I encourage the legislature to find a way to reconcile the widespread use of marijuana and our laws.”

AB 390 will be formally considered by the Assembly Public Safety Committee in January. Four different ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana through the general election in November 2010 are currently circulating in California. At least seven different polls this year, including Gallup, Field, and Zogby, have measured majority support in California or across the Western states for legalizing marijuana for adults.

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

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