California votes to legalise marijuana

California has taken a further step towards the legalisation of marijuana for recreational use when drafting a bill that will be part of the legislative elections of November 2010. The initiative sums up to the already known legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, where California was one of the pioneering states.

On Wednesday 23 March, the California Secretary of State, Debra Bowen announced the measure that would legalise and regulate marijuana use, as well as tax it. The latter would raise one billion dollars a year and save resources spent on prisons, according to proponents.

This is not the first attempt to legalise marijuana in California. In 1972 an initiative failed even though the defenders emphasised its safety and social acceptance, however, this campaign will highlight the hard cash that this measure would bring to the state.

The act would allow any adult 21 or older to possess up to 28 grams of marijuana for personal use, and allow the planting of just over two square metres per residence. In exchange, cities could tax the crops, transport and sale of drugs. Proponents of the measure point out that currently the legal (for medicinal purposes) and illegal marijuana market generates millions of dollars that are not subject to tax from which the state could get money to fill the large financial gap that exists in California.

However, the bill will not be approved easily. Consumption, trafficking, sale and production of drugs are prohibited as stated in federal regulations of the United States and the crime is heavily penalised. The potential passage of the bill would put California against federal law. In addition, it has many opponents who believe that legalising marijuana will bring more problems than benefits. John Standish, president of the Association of California Peace Officers told The New York Times: “We just don’t think any good is going to come from this (…) It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it”.

Other opponents such as Steve Steiner, founder of Dads and Moms Against Drug Dealers asserts that the holes in the budget do not justify the legalisation of marijuana and at the same time argues that medical marijuana in California has not been a success. He further claims that many cities have restricted dispensaries because of complaints from residents and nearby schools.

A survey carried out in 2009 showed that 56% of Californians are in favour of legalising marijuana if it is subject to tax. Dan Newman, a San Francisco-based strategist for the ballot measure, told The New York Times that the main concern of the voters is the budget and the economy and for this reason the legalisation looks favourable considering that it would bring more than one billion dollars per year.

By the time both sectors are campaigning with the aim of informing the public about the benefits and problems of the bill. If approved, California would join countries where marijuana use is decriminalised for recreational purposes such as Holland and Portugal.


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