West Coast Weed Wars: Legalizing Legislators Come Out Swinging

Two leading advocates of marijuana legalization at the statehouse came out swinging during a Thursday press conference to push the issue forward. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), author of AB 390, the California legalization bill, and Rep. Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland), cosponsor of HB 2401, the Washington state legalization bill, both said the time to legalize marijuana has come.

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Ammiano press conference for AB 390
"We're very excited, we've gained a lot of traction, and the political will seems to be there," said Ammiano, whose bill has already had one committee hearing and heads for an Assembly Public Safety Committee vote next month. "There also seems to be a populist dimension, as evidenced by the legalization initiative, which has qualified for the ballot."

Ammiano was referring to the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 initiative sponsored by Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, which formally announced this week that it had secured sufficient signatures to make the November 2010 ballot. (The Chronicle reported on that story two weeks ago.

"My bill would generate much needed revenue for the state," Ammiano continued. "We are in an historic economic and fiscal crisis, and taxing marijuana is just common sense."

But, Ammiano added, it isn't all about the dollars. "This is not just about the revenue," he said, "this is a social justice issue. People of color, specifically African-Americans, are being disproportionately arrested," the San Francisco assemblyman charged.

While opponents of legalization want to talk about its social costs, said Ammiano, that argument needs to be turned around. "We need to be talking about the social costs or prohibition," he said. "As a parent and grandparent, I'm concerned about the easy access that young people have, and I'm concerned about the chaos that prohibition brings, which is what we now have in California."

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Roger Goodman
If the California legislature is moving toward legalization, Washington's is right behind it, said Goodman, who represents a suburban Seattle district, and whose day job when the legislature is out of session is headingthe King County Bar Association's Drug Policy Project. "We're following California's lead," Goodman said. "This is an issue that has been simmering and is now ripe for public discussions. Finally, rationality is being allowed in this discussion."

Goodman said he didn't intend to waste his time on a bill that had no chance of passage. "If we didn't think we could do this, we wouldn't be doing it at all," he said. "This is not an idle effort."

Marijuana legalization addresses a whole set of legitimate public policy objectives, said Goodman. "Let's protect our children, let's get it off the streets, let's be fiscally responsible," he said. "Let's talk regulation instead of prohibition because we can't afford that anymore. This issue has been sexy too long; it's time to make it boring. Let's talk about a regulatory framework for cultivation and sales and about storage and about quality control and about times and places for sales, the same way we talk about controlling liquor and pharmaceuticals."

The Washington bill, which was pre-filed for next year's session earlier this month, has not, naturally enough, advanced as far as Ammiano's California bill. But Goodman said it would move and could be modified during the legislative process. "We need public input into the rulemaking," he said. "This bill is a work in progress."

California and Washington are not the only states with active marijuana legalization efforts. In the Northeast, both Vermont and Massachusetts saw bills introduced this year. But despite rising support nationwide for legalization, the West Coast still seems the best bet.

"Polls show increasing levels of public support all around the country for making marijuana legal," said Julie Harris, managing director of public policy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which arranged the press conference. "Marijuana is increasingly seen as a mainstream substance used recreationally and unproblematic ally by millions of Americans. We see tremendous momentum in favor of making marijuana legal, yet we still see 850,000 Americans arrested for it every year," Harris noted.

"With so many states facing fiscal crises and draconian budget cuts, why are we wasting our precious law enforcement resources on nothing more serious than using marijuana?" Harris asked. "It's time we move toward a system of reasonable regulation."

Legalization needn't worry about federal marijuana prohibition, said DPA staff attorney Theshia Naidoo. "There is nothing in federal law that requires states to criminalize any particular conduct," she said. "States have the ability to decide what conduct is illegal or not under state law. The federal Controlled Substances Act criminalizes the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana under federal law, but does not compel the states to criminalize marijuana," Naidoo argued.

"The federal government may criminalize marijuana, but it cannot force the states to criminalize or to enforce federal prohibition," she reiterated. "The states are free to opt out of federal marijuana prohibition."

California looks to be the first state likely to break with federal prohibition -- either through the legislature or at the ballot box -- but cracks in the dam of pot prohibition are starting to show up elsewhere as well.

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If after legalization there were a huge increase in the rolling of hot-burning overdose "joints" (in slavish imitation of the tobackgo $igarette format) and "blunts" (with Ad-Dictive nicotine in the wrapper to be inhaled along with the cannabis), bad symptomatic results could bring about a backlash and crackdown that you don't want. A nicotine $igarette when puffed on can reach 700 C (1292 F), and a fat "joint" surely somewhat similar, destroying cannabinoids, whereupon the poor sucker will take more tokes and ingest more carbon monoxide-- the results then blamed on the riefer.

Therefore start coupling the legal reforms with plenty of counseling and propaganda for vaporizers, e-cigarette with THC-formula in the cartridge, and long-stemmed one-hitters (screened narrow "single-toke" crater in quarter-inch i.d. socket wrench, brass hose nipple, or traditional chillum, kiseru, midwakh holders with long flexible "hookah" drawtube to cool the vapors before they reach your trachea).

What "bad symptomatic

What "bad symptomatic results" could you expect from smoking a joint but not from a pipe? You don't have to like joints, but you shouldn't say crap like "hot-burning overdose..."

Why would I want to smoke from a socket wrench when the health effects are the same as a joint? And "$igarettes" isn't clever.

Agree with you

He's posted that same stuff over and over and I'm getting a bit sick of it. A good water pipe/bong does an excellent job of filtering out any heat and any possible unwanted/unhealthful water soluble elements from the smoke. Perhaps he sells those one hitters he keeps promoting, I used to have one, it was ok for taking a quick hit in a rather public location but I much prefer the cool and tasty smoke from a bong over any other method of smoking cannabis.

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Jean Boyd's picture

AGREE

with Maxwood. If marijuana becomes legal and the policy makers becomes irate over it they will create a scandal such as "bad" marijuana. This will cause a backlash. This creates public emotion, opinion and hysteria in some people. At that point people will support the wave to criminalize again. They will say, "see, it was a bad decision to legalize". I think this is what Max is saying. Like what happened when slavery was supposedly abolished.

How many people smoke pure tobacco leaves?

I agree that we have to make sure legal marijuana has good quality control. Cigarettes have been legal forever, and there have been many ways of making them safer forever, and because of big tobacco's economic power (which translates into political power), people are still dying needlessly from nicotine addictions. Basically all the harm from cigarettes (that i know of) is from smoking and from the crap they put into them. Other than the addiction, i don't think nicotine is particularly harmful. Even if you were to smoke clean, pure tobacco leaves, they'd probably be much safer than a cigarette. But is it available? Hardly. The vast majority of smokers smoke the crap-filled cigarettes. There is even "concern" that e-cigarettes are not safe, and some places ban them. That's absurd! Ban e-cigarettes because we're not 100% sure they are safe, but allow normal cigarettes which we do know are not safe? Obviously the tobacco companies put money into scaring people about e-cigarettes. I say do whatever research is necessary and don't let big tobacco delay the adoption of safer nicotine consumption in society. And please, don't let a legal marijuana industry start selling crap-filled "marijuana" cigarettes to the point where we can't find pure, natural bud anymore.

tobacco

what about Drum and Bali Shag? I agree with what you're saying, but I think we'll ultimately see most people smoking schwaggy pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes also.

How else can you explain it? People smoke crappy cigs rather than roll their own premium tobacco - for less money. It's either ease-of-use, marketing mind-control power, or they really are adding something more addictive to the commercial cigs.

Look at commercial beer - same thing. A few Sam Adams and Fat Tire drinkers among a nation of PBR, Bud, and Miller rice beers. You can't fight it, it's what Americans want. We are Wal-mart nation!

AGREE

The whole reason we have cannabis prohibition now is because of the scare tactics of a few and the power of the press. Remember that if Anslinger had not had Hearst telling his lies back in the 30's he probably would not have succeeded in getting it made illegal. My wife and I still get emails from one of our federal legislators that parrot the whole "Drugs are bad, marijuana is a gateway drug" line of BS that has been going around for 70+ years. I know that when he comes up for election next time I will certainly try to get everyone in my area to vote for someone else. Hopefully there will be someone else to vote for.

east vs. west

It's funny, I always hear that the west coast states have the strongest support for legalization, but the polling numbers for the New York, New Jersey, and the 6 New England states are never released separately.

I think support for legalization in these 8 states is as high as anywhere in the US. I know Quebec usually polls out with the highest support of any province in Canada.

There is a huge difference in support for good cannabis laws in the northeast vs. the mid-atlantic and southeast, we're tired of being lumped in with them in the media.

In 2008 Massachusetts set the record for the highest vote total of any state cannabis referendum in US history (65%), and we weren't even voting on medical MJ, it was decrim for medical and recreational use alike.

The Mainstream debate is just starting

It's great that these legislators are starting to talk about other aspects of the debate like racial justice. The mainstream started to pay attention when they realized the money aspect; now they'll see legalization is a much deeper and broader issue than that.

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