Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Oakland Marijuana Regulation News

Oakland proposes statewide semi-legalization of pot

Donna Tam/The Times-Standard
Posted: 07/29/2009 01:24:22 AM PDT

Oakland marijuana activists are looking for nearly 434,000 signatures statewide to support a ballot measure that would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot.

Organizers filed the measure with the California Attorney General's Office Tuesday with the hopes of getting enough signatures to include the measure -- which would also allow homeowners to grow marijuana for personal use on garden plots up to 25 square feet -- on the November 2010 ballot.

The initiative comes on the heels of several initiatives moving toward legalizing and regulating marijuana, prompting some local activists and officials to point to California's failing economy and changing attitudes as impetus.

”Marijuana is California's largest cash crop,” said Greg Allen, an attorney who has been a medical marijuana activist for more than a decade. Allen said the latest movements toward taxing marijuana will have significant economic benefits for the state. Legalizing it would also lower the price of marijuana, possibly leading to less criminalized behavior associated with the underground marijuana market, Allen said.

”If marijuana were legalized in the state of California there would be lower law enforcement costs, pretty much from prosecuting to paper clips to police officers. And, it would clearly lower incarceration costs,” he said, adding that law enforcement efforts could then be directed toward other issues of greater concern.

Humboldt County Sheriff Gary Philp said his department already makes an effort to not go far beyond the necessary boundaries when it comes to marijuana enforcement.

”We make an overt effort not to deal with people who are meeting the legal requirements,” he said. “We don't enforce the federal laws, so if people are within legal guidelines, then we move on and are just dealing with commercial illegal efforts.”

Philp said some legislators may see the marijuana industry as “a cash cow,” one they can regulate and make money off of, but it is difficult to tell how legalization would really play out.

According to numbers released by the state Board of Equalization earlier this month, marijuana is estimated to be a $14 billion industry in California. The board estimated that taxation of the drug could result in nearly $1.4 billion in revenue.

Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos said the decriminalization of marijuana would save his department time and resources.

He said while he's not an advocate for a marijuana lifestyle, he thinks decriminalization would be a positive step for the county since it could reduce the amount of robberies and other illicit activities involved in the black market. He estimates that the cost of marijuana in the county is about $4,000 a pound.

”What you have is a drug that's readily accessible, legal and completely without regulations,” Gallegos said. “There are more regulations on dog ownership than on medical marijuana. Let's decriminalize it and move on.”

Patricia Welch, local Republican Party chairwoman, said she is concerned that decriminalization could mean more access for minors.

”Part of it is saying this is OK to have this because adults can,” she said, adding that she doesn't see how the state can regulate an industry as large and underground as marijuana.

While some may agree with Welch, it seems that public perception of marijuana is changing.

A Field Poll earlier this year found that 56 percent of California voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana.

Dale Gieringer, coordinator for the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said public polls have taken a dramatic shift this year with a majority of residents in California and the other Western states saying they favor legalization.

”There's a lot of enthusiasm now and impatience for changing the law ... . There's an enormous swing in opinion I think partly because of the administration change, but largely in part due to the economy,” Gieringer said.

The recent measure's main backer is Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, who helped push a first-of-its- kind tax on city medical marijuana dispensaries that passed with 80 percent of the vote last week in Oakland.

Gieringer said this measure will have the financial backing to push the measure through.

”The one to watch would be this one,” he said.

A similar but less restrictive pot legalization initiative was filed two weeks ago by a group of Northern California criminal defense lawyers.

That one -- the Tax, Regulate and Control Cannabis Act of 2010 -- would set no specific limits on the amount of pot adults could possess or grow for personal use. The measure would repeal all local and state marijuana laws and clear the criminal record of anyone convicted of a pot-related offense.

Both ballot measures would be competing with a bill introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

The San Francisco Democrat is pushing legalization as a way to generate revenue for the cash-starved state from its massive marijuana industry. He plans to hold hearings on the legislation this fall.

Ammiano said his bill and the ballot initiatives are all part of a “perfect storm” that will lead to marijuana legalization.

”All this is beneficial at this stage in the game,” he said.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said he hopes attempts to legalize marijuana do not endanger the efforts of medical marijuana advocates. He said he does not know what kind of fallout these initiatives may have, but ASA does not support any legislation for legalization or even additionally taxing medical marijuana.

”We as an organization don't support recreational use,” Hermes said. “We're working to increase protection for patients and expand access really across the country.”

Allen said that legalization can be a positive thing for medical marijuana, helping to improve its image overall and therefore improve patient access and its medicinal quality.

”The medical cannabis community can be an example to the marijuana community in general by doing the right thing -- following the law, paying their taxes -- being a part the community,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Donna Tam can be reached at 441-0532 or dtam@times-standard .com.

http://www.times- standard. com/localnews/ ci_12936084

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