IN 1971 a group of teenagers in San Rafael, north of San Francisco, started meeting after school, at 4:20PM, to get high. The habit spread, and 420 became code for fun time among potheads worldwide. Ever since, California has remained in the vanguard of global cannabis culture. Oaksterdam University in Oakland is today unique in the world as a sort of Aristotelian lyceum for the study of all aspects—horticultural, scientific, historical—of the weed.
Legally, California has also been a pioneer, at least within America. In 1996 it was the first state to allow marijuana to be grown and consumed for medicinal purposes. Since then, 13 states and the District of Columbia have followed, and others are considering it. But this year California may set a more fundamental, and global, precedent. It may become the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise, regulate and tax the consumption, production and distribution of marijuana.
Other Western countries—from Argentina to Belgium and Portugal—have liberalised their marijuana laws in recent decades. Some places, such as the Netherlands and parts of Australia, have in effect decriminalised the use of cannabis. But no country has yet gone all the way.
Several efforts are under way in California to do exactly that. One is a bill wending its way through the state legislature that would essentially treat marijuana like alcohol, making it legal for people aged 21 and over. Sponsored by Tom Ammiano, a flamboyant gay activist and assemblyman from San Francisco, it would levy a $50 excise tax on every ounce produced and a sales tax on top, then use those funds for drug education. A rival bill would de-penalise (as opposed to legalise) marijuana, so that getting caught with it would be no worse than receiving a parking ticket.
The more visible effort is a measure, Proposition 19, which will be put directly to voters on the November ballot. This so-called Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, sponsored by the founder of Oaksterdam University, would also legalise the growing, selling and smoking of marijuana for those older than 21, within certain limits. But it would leave the regulation and taxation entirely up to counties and cities. These could choose to ban the business or to tax it at whatever rate they pleased.
This burst of activity may yet come to nothing, however. California has deeply conservative parts, and Proposition 19 has mobilised them. George Runner, a Republican state senator, calls legalisation a “reprehensible” idea. He fears that “once again California would be the great experiment for the rest of the world at the expense of public safety, community health and common sense.”
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Sunday, July 18, 2010