Sunday, March 28, 2010

Jesse McKinley: Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green

Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green
The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps only in California could a group of marijuana smokers call themselves fiscal realists.

And yet, faced with a $20 billion deficit, strained state services and regular legislative paralysis, voters in California are now set to consider a single-word solution to help ease some of the state’s money troubles: legalize.

On Wednesday, the California secretary of state certified a November vote on a ballot measure that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, a plan that advocates say could raise $1.4 billion and save precious law enforcement and prison resources.

Indeed, unlike previous efforts at legalization — including a failed 1972 measure in California — the 2010 campaign will not dwell on assertions of marijuana’s harmlessness or its social acceptance, but rather on cold cash.

“We need the tax money,” said Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, a trade school for marijuana growers, in Oakland, who backed the ballot measure’s successful petition drive. “Second, we need the tax savings on police and law enforcement, and have that law enforcement directed towards real crime.”

Supporters are hoping to raise $10 million to $20 million for the campaign, primarily on the Internet, with national groups planning to urge marijuana fans to contribute $4.20 at a time, a nod to 420, a popular shorthand for the drug.

The law would permit licensed retailers to sell up to one ounce at a time. Those sales would be a new source of sales tax revenue for the state.

Opponents, however, scoff at the notion that legalizing marijuana could somehow help with the state’s woes. They tick off a list of social ills — including tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace — that such an act would contribute to.

“We just don’t think any good is going to come from this,” said John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers Association, whose 3,800 members include police chiefs and sheriffs. “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”

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