California committee passes marijuana measure

January 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
There was a step forward on Tuesday in the effort to legalize marijuana in California. The assembly's Public Safety Committee narrowly approved the bill to tax and regulate marijuana, similar to alcohol.

It was an interesting day for supporters who want to legalize marijuana. On the same day they won a key legislative hurdle, their proposal effectively died because of a technicality.

There was a major victory for the movement that's pushing to legalize marijuana in the state of California.

The Assembly Public Safety committee narrowly approved a bill that would allow adult recreational use of the drug, and tax it and regulate it like alcohol.

The move would bring in more than a $1 billion a year in state revenue. Law enforcement and faith-based groups had grave concerns over the effects on youth and society.

"Don't we have enough trouble with legal drugs and mind-altering substances, as well as the health and public safety impacts of alcohol and tobacco?" San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer.

But the win is likely to be short-lived. The proposal needs one more committee approval by this Friday's deadline, which won't happen without a rare special waiver.

Still, the author says a lawmaking-body taking action shows promise.

"It legitimizes the quest for debate, the quest for for discussion. There was a time when the 'M-word' would never have been brought up in Sacramento," Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said.

Though Governor Schwarzenegger likes the current law that makes marijuana illegal except for medicinal purposes, he said debating change is good for democracy.

"All of those things ought to be discussed because one ought to hear the pros and cons of everything, and I'm all for that," he said.

Ammiano is weighing two choices: take an existing bill, gut it and insert the marijuana proposal, or wait until voters in November decide the fate of a citizen-initiative, which somewhat legalizes pot.

"It's far better for the Legislature to get ahead of it and respond to voter concerns, but be able to do so if there's flaws, we can adjust it," Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said.

Other states are also talking about changing their marijuana laws. New Jersey just approved medicinal marijuana use this week and the state of Washington is considering whether to remove criminal penalties for marijuana.


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