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Chronicle AM -- December 6, 2013

A new marijuana legalization has been filed in California, the Florida medical marijuana initiative faces a pair of challenges, the British Columbia decriminalization initiative is struggling, and more. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

A New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Filed. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act was filed with the California attorney general's office Wednesday. It would legalize up to an ounce and four plants for people 21 and over and create a statewide system of regulated marijuana commerce. It's not clear, however, whether its backers will seek to gather signatures for 2014 or will use it as a place marker for 2016. Another legalization initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is in the signature-gathering phase, but lacks deep-pocketed financial backing.

Thinking About a Post-Pot Prohibition World. Martin Lee, the author of Acid Dreams and Smoke Signals, about the cultural histories of LSD and marijuana, respectively, writes about marijuana legalization as a beginning, not an end, and has some interesting and provocative thoughts about what should come next.

Medical Marijuana

Florida Supreme Court Hears Challenge to Medical Marijuana Initiative. The Florida Supreme Court Thursday heard arguments on whether the proposed constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana should go on the November 2014 ballot. Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) had challenged it as misleading and in violation of federal law. The justices did not decide the issue, but a decision will be coming shortly.

Florida Medical Marijuana Initiative Needs a Lot of Signatures in a Hurry. The state Division of Elections reported Thursday that People United for Medical Marijuana, the group behind the initiative, has just under 137,000 signatures that have been validated. They need 683,149 by February. There is some lag between signatures gathered and signatures validated, and organizers say they have collected 400,000 signatures so far. But that means they need probably another 400,000 in just a few weeks just to have a cushion that would allow for the inevitable invalid signatures.

International

British Columbia Marijuana Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Struggling. Sensible BC's signature-gathering campaign to put a decriminalization initiative on the ballot in British Columbia looks like it is going to fall short. The group needs 310,000 valid signatures by Monday, but only has 150,000 gathered. But if they don't make it this time, that won't be the end of it. "Sensible BC is here to stay," said the group's Dana Larsen. "You can be quite sure we're going to try this campaign again sometime in the next year to year-and-a-half, if we don't succeed this time. We're not going away."

Report Says SE Asia Amphetamine Use is Fueling Rise in HIV Risk. An increase in injection use of amphetamines in Southeast Asia is raising the risk of the spread of HIV and requires "urgent" action, according to a new report from the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the Asia-Pacific Drugs and Development Issues Committee. Not only injection drug use, but risky sexual behavior as well among amphetamine users, is part of the problem, the report says.

New California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed

The Drug Policy Alliance has filed a marijuana legalization initiative with the California Secretary of State's office. But it's not clear whether backers will try to get it on the ballot next year.

The initiative, The Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act, would legalize the possession of up to an ounce by persons 21 or over and allow people to grow up to four plants. It would leave the rest of the state's marijuana laws and its medical marijuana laws unchanged, but would create statewide regulation of adult sales and commercial cultivation, with a 25% retail sales tax.

The initiative is backed by the Drug Policy Alliance, which says that given impressive recent poll numbers, it wanted to have something ready for 2014 just in case.

It's not clear whether there will actually be an effort to get this on the ballot for 2014, or if this is more like a place marker for 2016. Look for a firm decision on that next month.

Another initiative, The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014, was submitted in August and is now in its signature gathering phase. It has until the end of February to come up with 504,000 valid voter signatures, but it has not received big money backing, making the effort to get on the ballot an uphill battle.

Location: 
Sacramento, CA
United States

Chronicle AM -- November 20, 2013

A Maryland gubernatorial candidate and a Maine legislator both call for marijuana legalization, politicians are in trouble for drugs, and marijuana law reforms appear to be advancing internationally, except in one Australian state. That's just for starters. Let's get to it:

Marijuana Policy

Maryland gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur wants to legalize marijuana. (wikipedia.org)
Maryland Gubernatorial Candidate Proposes Marijuana Legalization. Heather Mizeur, a Democratic candidate for Maryland governor, Tuesday released a plan to tax, regulate, and legalize marijuana. Under her proposal, marijuana taxes would generate $157 million a year and would go to pay for early childhood education. Click the link for more details.

Maine Legislator Unveils Marijuana Legalization Bill. State Rep. Diane Russell (D-Portland) Tuesday announced she was introducing a new bill to legalize marijuana. The bill, LR 2329, would legalize the possession of small amounts of pot by adults over 21 and impose a 10% sales tax and 15% excise tax on marijuana sales. Russell said the recent vote by Portland residents in favor of legalization sent a clear message to lawmakers.

California Marijuana Legalization Effort Extends Deadline for Input, Amendments. Backers of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, the nation's first "open-sourced" legalization initiative, have extended their timeline for further comments on the measure. Backers are holding a series of meetings throughout the state before turning in final amendments to state officials in the first week of December. This initiative is sponsored by Americans for Policy Reform. Another measure, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, is already in the signature-gathering phase. Neither has the backing of deep-pocketed donors, who seem to be waiting for 2016 instead.

AMA Passes Resolution Against Marijuana Legalization. Delegates at the American Medical Association's 2013 Interim Meeting Tuesday passed a resolution opposing marijuana legalization. "Our AMA believes that (1) cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern; (2) sale and possession should not be legalized," the resolution says. Note, however, that there is some confusion over the "and possession" language. The draft document cited by the anti-legalization group Project SAM, which touted the resolution's passage in a press release, appears to have the words "and possession" struck through, suggesting that they had been deleted from the resolution and that the AMA might support decriminalization. Project SAM was unable to provide clarification Wednesday, but promised to get back to the Chronicle.

Sentencing Reform

Washington State Defelonization Bill to be Rolled Out Tomorrow. The activist group Sensible Washington is holding a press conference Thursday to formally introduce a legislative proposal to defelonize the possession of personal use amounts of illegal drugs. Speakers will include bill sponsors Representatives Sherry Appleton (23rd Disrict), Joe Fitzgibbon (34th District), Jessyn Farrell (46th District), Luis Moscoso (1st District) and Jim Moeller (49th District), as well as former corrections official and speaker for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Matt McCally.

Politicians in Drug Trouble

Congressman Busted for Cocaine Possession. US Rep. Trey Radel (R-FL), the congressman arrested last month for cocaine possession, pleaded guilty today and was sentenced to a year of supervised probation. [Ed: An article on ThinkProgress.org suggests Radel may have decent views on drug policy, but there isn't really enough information to know for sure. An update to the article pointed out that he voted for legislation that would allow states to subject food stamp recipients to drug tests. However, that vote actually was for a larger piece of recurring legislation, the Farm Bill, of which the drug testing provision was a small part. The drug testing provision was passed as an amendment sponsored by another Republican legislator, on a voice vote, meaning there is no record as to what Radel's position was on it, or if he had one. -DB]

Toronto's Crack-Smoking Mayor is Foe of Drug Reform, Harm Reduction. Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who has belatedly admitted to smoking crack "in a drunken stupor," is a long-time foe of both drug law reform and harm reduction. Ford has consistently supported the criminalization of drug users and scoffed at programs such as clean needles for drug users as "absolutely ridiculous." He's always appealed to law-and-order voters and praises gang and drug sweeps aimed at poor, marginalized groups. He was a loud and vocal opponent of the 2005 Toronto Drug Strategy, which included a proposal that the city support federal marijuana decriminalization. This after he was caught six years earlier with a joint in his pocket when he was busted for drunk driving in Miami. Whether Ford's recent misadventures will prompt (force?) him to change his attitudes remains to be seen. [Ed: Whether it will ever matter again what Ford's views are also remains to be seen.]

International

Dutch Liberals to File Bill for Regulated Marijuana Production. Holland's D66 Liberal party, the second most popular in the country, is drawing up legislation to regulate marijuana cultivation. The measure would address the country's "back door problem," where cannabis cafes are allowed to sell small amounts of marijuana, but cannot legally acquire it. The move comes as pressure is mounting on the conservative coalition government to resolve the issue. Two-thirds of the country's largest municipalities support such a move. The Justice Minister, who opposes legalizing cultivation, has said he will update parliament on the situation by year's end.

Pot Legalization in US Driving Down BC Bud Prices. Marijuana activists in British Columbia say the marijuana legalization votes in Colorado and especially Washington are driving down the prices of the province's trademark BC Bud. Dana Larsen, who runs a Vancouver dispensary and is trying to push a referendum to decriminalize in the province, said his prices had dropped 20%, while Jodie Emery, wife of imprisoned "Prince of Pot" Marc Emery, said pound prices had dropped from $2,000 to $1,000.

Marijuana Decriminalization Clamor Grows in Bermuda. The Bermudan government has already signaled it is willing to discuss the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana, and now the opposition is making similar noises. The government said in its Throne Speech that it is working on the possibility of decriminalization, and the opposition People's Labor Party Shadow Finance Minister David Burt has replied, saying his party wants the removal of criminal penalties for possession of small amounts, options for the medical use of marijuana on the island, and the regulation of the sale and use of the drug.

South Australia Ready to March Resolutely Backward on Pot Policy. Parliamentarians in South Australia are preparing to amend the state's marijuana laws for the worse. The changes would reduce the amount of marijuana punishable only by a fine from 100 grams to 25 grams, and carrying more than 25 grams would be a criminal offense. The measure would also double the fine, from $150 to $300. There are also plans afoot to increase the penalties for marijuana cultivation.

Marijuana Policy on the Ballot (Last) Tuesday

[Ed: This piece was written before Election Day. See other articles this issue for the results.]

State and local elections Tuesday will see voters in Colorado, three Michigan cities, and Portland, Maine, deciding on marijuana policy reform questions. In Colorado, voters will decide whether to approve taxation of the legal marijuana industry, while in Michigan and Portland, voters will decide on decriminalization and legalization, respectively.

In Colorado, Proposition AA would impose a 15% excise tax on wholesale recreational marijuana transactions, as well as an additional 10% sales tax at the retail level. The measure is expected to pass despite the opposition of some vocal segments of the state's marijuana community.

In Lansing, Jackson, and Ferndale, Michigan, voters will be asked to amend city charters to ensure "that nothing in the Code of Ordinances shall apply to the use, possession, and transfer of less than one ounce of marijuana, on private property, by a person who has attained 21 years," as the Lansing language puts it.

"It's important to send a message and to take a position as a capital city," said Jeffrey Hank, a Lansing attorney who has pushed to decriminalize marijuana in Lansing. "We're the last of the major Michigan cities to have (marijuana decriminalization) reform."

Decriminalization (or personal legalization) has already passed in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti.

In Portland, voters in Maine's largest city will decide whether to approve Question 1, which would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2 ½ ounces without penalty. The question also includes a resolution of support for taxing and regulating marijuana at the state and federal level.

While the Maine and Michigan local initiatives are likely to be ignored by state and local law enforcement, they will still have the symbolic value of putting voters on record as supporting marijuana law reform. If they pass, that is.

Washington Medical Marijuana Recommendations Draw Opposition

The three state agencies and the governor's office that constitute the state's medical marijuana working group on Monday released their draft recommendations for dealing with medical marijuana in the era of legal marijuana possession and state-licensed marijuana stores under the I-502 initiative. Their recommendations would essentially gut the existing medical marijuana system, and patients and advocates are crying foul.

What's the future for medical marijuana in Washington?
The recommendations from the State Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing the I-502 regime), the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue would allow state-registered patients to purchase tax-exempt marijuana from the 334 stores envisioned under I-502, but would also reduce the amount patients could possess from 24 ounces to three ounces, require doctors to register patients with the state, remove the affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, and end the right to petition for new medical conditions to be added.

The recommendations also call for eliminating the right of patients to grow their own, either individually or collectively, require existing dispensaries to comply with I-502 regulations, and force out of business those that can't. That would bring the state's medical marijuana system in line with I-502's no home grow provision.

While I-502 only envisions legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, the recommendations would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to use medical marijuana, but patients under the age of 18 would only be allowed to use it with parental consent and could only possess one dose at a time.

The state agencies will make their final recommendations by January 1, when they must send a final report to the state legislature, but in the meantime, they are taking for public comment between now and November 8. They can expect to get an earful from an angry medical marijuana community.

"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."

ASA, which worked with local activists to create the Health Before Happy Hour campaign to try to ensure that medical marijuana patients don't get run over by the legalization bus, is also holding a series of stakeholder meeting to mobilize the community and protect what it views as its hard-won rights. Those meetings will be held between October 27 and 30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.

ASA created that campaign in part because of ominous portents coming from state officials and other key players. In May, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith warned that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program, while state Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, more recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down.

Then, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs chimed in to claim that "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." As if that weren't enough, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries, and US Attorneys continue to menace patients and providers. US Attorney Jenny Durkan qualified the state's medical marijuana system as "untenable," and vowed to shut down the dispensaries.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," said Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical marijuana. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."

Instead of gutting the medical marijuana program, the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is calling for a system of state-licensed and regulated dispensaries outside the scope of I-502. The campaign is supporting legislation similar to Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire (D).

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Olympia, WA
United States

Panel to Study California Marijuana Legalization

California Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will lead a blue ribbon panel of expert to chart a path toward marijuana legalization, the ACLU of California announced Thursday. At the same time, the group released polling results showing that two-thirds of California voters are ready to support regulated legal marijuana commerce that contributes to state tax coffers.

Gavin Newsom announces panel formation. (Rebecca Farmer)
"The prohibition of marijuana has had an enormous human and financial cost in communities across this state," said Newsom, the highest ranking elected official in California to publicly endorse taxing and regulating marijuana for adults. "It is far past time for Californians take a serious look at smarter approaches to marijuana, and it is imperative that happen before any marijuana ballot initiative gets underway."

The panel will consist of academic, legal, and policy experts and "will engage in a two-year research effort," the ACLU said. That is a clear signal that organizers are aiming at 2016 -- not 2014 -- as the time to put the matter before voters, even though at least two separate 2014 marijuana legalization initiative efforts are already underway in the state.

"The panel's work will be designed to help voters and policy makers evaluate proposals for a strict tax and regulation system that will enable California to benefit from billions of dollars of new revenue while ensuring safe communities and protecting against underage use," the ACLU said.

Among those named to the panel are Keith Humphreys, a Stanford Health Policy Associate who was a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2009-2010; Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law expert and dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law; two past presidents of the California Society of Addiction Medicine; Dr. Seth Ammerman, a Stanford University professor and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics; Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith; and Sam Kamin, a Denver University law professor who has been appointed to the Colorado governor's task force for implementing that state's marijuana legalization initiative.

Also included are Alison Holcomb, campaign manager of Washington state's successful 2012 ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana; Tamar Todd, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance; Karen O'Keefe, staff attorney for the Marijuana Policy Project; and Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

In addition to enhancing state revenue streams, marijuana legalization would end the extreme racial disparities in marijuana arrests in California, the ACLU said.

"Marijuana prohibition has harmed communities and families by needlessly ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the overburdened criminal justice system, with people of color far more likely to be arrested and prosecuted," said Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the ACLU of California. "California voters recognize that it's time for change and will overwhelmingly support reforming marijuana laws provided it can be done responsibly with adequate safeguards and assurances that tax revenues will go to fund public schools and other important social services."

CA
United States

Two-Thirds of Californians Say Legalize Marijuana

Will California wait until 2016 to vote on legalizing marijuana? A poll released Thursday strongly suggests voters in the Golden State are ready to legalize it right now.

Should marijuana be legal? California says "yes."
The new Tulchin Research poll has support for legalizing marijuana at just under two-thirds (65%), with only 32% opposed. It shows majority support for legalization among every demographic except one -- Republican Party members. Even among Republicans, support for legalization (47%) trailed opposition (50%) by only three points.

And this was not a generic legalization question. The poll asked: "There may be a measure on the ballot in the future to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in California for adults. It would still be illegal for minors, there would be penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and it could only be sold in state regulated stores. The measure would tax marijuana and generate an estimated one billion dollars a year to fund schools, public safety and other essential services and there would be annual audits to ensure the money is spent as intended. Based on this, would you support or oppose this proposal?"

Geographically, support was strongest in the Bay Area (73%), followed by San Diego (67%), Los Angeles County and the Central Valley at 65%, Sacramento/North (63%), the Los Angeles Area (59%), and the Inland Empire (58%).

Among racial groups, support was strongest among blacks (74%), followed by whites (69%) and Asians (68%), with Hispanics lagging at 53%. Both men (66%) and women (65%) strongly supported legalization. So did all age groups, with the lowest level of support being 54% among 40-49-year-olds.

"In sum, voters strongly support a marijuana legalization and regulation measure for adults that includes penalties for DUI and collects revenues to fund public services," Tulchin said. "Furthermore, such a reform is supported by nearly all demographic subgroups across the state."

The poll comes as one 2014 marijuana legalization initiative is in the signature-gathering phase and a second is awaiting approval of title and ballot summary at the state attorney general's office. The conventional wisdom among deep-pocketed drug reformers is that California should wait until 2016, when a presidential election year generates higher voter turnout, which in turn favors liberal voting groups, but poll numbers like these are going to increase the pressure to get something done next year.

The poll was conducted on behalf of the ACLU of California, which also announced that it is putting together a high-octane panel to study marijuana legalization for the next two years, implicitly precluding a 2014 effort.

The Tulchin Research poll was conducted doing live landline and cell phone interviews with 1,200 November 2016 voters between September 26 and October 6. The margin of error is +/-3.1%.

CA
United States

Poll Finds Texans Ready to Legalize Marijuana

Voters in Texas are among the latest to hop on board the marijuana legalization bandwagon, according to a poll released this week. The Public Policy Polling survey had support for marijuana legalization at 58%, support for medical marijuana at 58%, and support for decriminalizing small-time possession at 61%.

The poll was commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project. The survey of 860 randomly selected Texas voters was conducted September 27-29 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.3%.

"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," said MPP executive director Rob Kampia, a part-time Austin resident. "Most Texans agree that marijuana sales should be conducted by legitimate businesses instead of drug cartels in the underground market."

The poll's legalization question -- "Would you support or oppose changing Texas law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older?" -- was the only question that allowed respondents to qualify their support as "strongly support" or "somewhat support." Some 41% strongly supported legalization, with another 17% somewhat supporting it.

Unusually, support for legalization was stronger among women (59%) than among men (56%). Also going against the grain, support was stronger among blacks (61%) and Latinos (60%) than Anglos (56%). In most polls across the country, men and whites are more likely to support legalization than women, blacks, or Latinos.

By political affiliation, legalization won strong majority support among Democrats (70%) and independents (57%), while even nearly half of Republicans (48%) also favored it. Legalization also won majority support across all age groups, with even those 65 and older coming in at 52%.

The poll also found that 61% of state voters support removing criminal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replacing them with a civil offense punishable by a fine of up to $100 with no possibility of jail time. Only 30% said they were opposed to that. Under current Texas law, it is a criminal offense for a person to possess a small amount of marijuana, and he or she can be sentenced to up to a year in jail and fined up to $2,000.

"Law enforcement officials' time would be better spent addressing violent crimes instead of adults simply possessing marijuana," Kampia said. "No adult should face potentially life-altering criminal penalties for using a product that is significantly less harmful than alcohol."

Most Texas voters (58%) support changing state law to allow seriously and terminally ill patients to use medical marijuana if their doctors recommend it. Just 31% said they are opposed.

"There is ample research demonstrating the medical benefits of marijuana in the treatment of several debilitating conditions," Kampia said. "People suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis should not face the threat of arrest for using medical marijuana if their doctors believe it will help ease their suffering."

TX
United States

Marijuana Legalization Bill Introduced in DC

A bill that would legalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21 and set up a system of regulated marijuana commerce was introduced in the District of Columbia city council Tuesday. Filed by Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large), the bill would give regulatory authority to the DC Alcoholic Beverages Regulation Administration.

The bill comes on the heels of a decriminalization bill introduced in July by Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward Six). That bill would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to an ounce of weed by adults and replace them with a maximum $100 fine.

The proposals appear to reflect public opinion in the nation's capital. An April Public Policy Polling survey that found 75% of District voters support decriminalization and more than 60% would support a tax, regulate, and legalize initiative similar to those that passed in Colorado and Washington last year. The same poll found a solid majority (54%) in favor of decriminalizing the possession of all drugs.

The release in June of an American Civil Liberties Union report on racial disparities in marijuana arrests has only upped the pressure. That report found that DC residents are arrested for marijuana possession at a higher rate than the residents of any state and that black DC residents are arrested at a rate far higher than white ones.

Councilmembers are looking over their shoulders as they move on marijuana law reform. DC activists emboldened by the local polling numbers as well as broader national trends are contemplating an initiative next year if the council fails to act.

"Marijuana prohibition has disproportionately criminalized black and brown people and wasted scarce law enforcement resources," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance Office of National Affairs. "Following the introduction of marijuana decriminalization legislation by Councilmember Tommy Wells, Councilmember David Grosso's proposal to tax and regulate marijuana will enhance efforts to provide District residents with relief from prohibitionist policies that have failed to curb the availability of marijuana to young people. Our nation's Capital would be wise to follow Colorado and Washington," said Smith.

Smith also pushed elected officials to not stop with ending marijuana prohibition.

"As Councilmembers look to end marijuana possession arrests, they should also consider the broad human and fiscal toll that decades of failed drug prohibition has wrought on District residents," he said. "Ultimately, drug use is most effectively addressed as a health issue instead of as a criminal justice issue -- and this means that a person should not be criminalized for possession of any drug in DC."

Washington, DC
United States

NYC Comptroller Says Legalize and Tax Marijuana in New Report

New York City Comptroller John Liu Wednesday released a report calling for the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Doing so would reduce the harms generated by marijuana prohibition and generate more than $400 million a year in taxes to pay for higher education, Liu said.

New York City Comptroller John Liu (wikipedia.org)
The comptroller is the chief fiscal officer and financial officer for the city. Liu, who has served one four-year term, is not seeking reelection.

"New York City's misguided war on marijuana has failed, and its enforcement has damaged far too many lives, especially in minority communities," said Comptroller Liu. "It's time for us to implement a responsible alternative. Regulating marijuana would keep thousands of New Yorkers out of the criminal justice system, offer relief to those suffering from a wide range of painful medical conditions, and make our streets safer by sapping the dangerous underground market that targets our children. As if that weren't enough, it would also boost our bottom line."

Liu estimated the size of the city's marijuana market at $1.65 billion a year and proposed using tax revenues from the legalized trade to cut tuition at the City University of New York (CUNY) by up to 50%.

"In this way, we'll invest in young people's futures, instead of ruining them," he said. "By regulating marijuana like alcohol, New York City can minimize teens' access to marijuana, while at the same time reducing their exposure to more dangerous drugs and taking sales out of the hands of criminals."

Under Liu's proposal, adults age 21 and over could possess up to one ounce of marijuana, which would be grown, processed, and sold by government-licensed businesses for recreational or medicinal purposes. A strict driving under the influence enforcement policy would be implemented concurrently, and marijuana use in public would be prohibited.

The report comes just days after a federal judge slammed the city for its stop-and-frisk policing tactics, which have played a key role in making the Big Apple the world leader in marijuana possession arrests. The street searches are racially biased, the judge found, ordering reforms.

"New Yorkers, like people elsewhere around the country, are questioning our broken polices related to marijuana," said Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Comptroller Liu's report offers another important opportunity for New Yorkers to examine the issues and discuss the range of options for fixing these laws. An increasing number of elected officials in the City and state agree that our marijuana policies are broken -- resulting in racial disparities, Constitutional violations, fiscal waste and needless suffering. While there may not be widespread agreement about how to fix these problems, it's critical that we have an open and vigorous debate about the issue."

New York City, NY
United States

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