The push to legalize marijuana in California has reached full throttle, with no less than four citizen initiatives and a legislative endeavor simultaneously underway.
With 14 states having already legalized marijuana for medicinal uses in spite of federal proscriptions against such use, the California efforts to expand the drug's legality seemed preordained. And the timing simply couldn't be better for marijuana advocates; not only has the U.S. Justice Department turned a blind eye toward states determined to allow medical marijuana use in contravention of federal drug laws, the American public increasingly favors full legalization of marijuana.
Recent Gallup polling shows 44 percent of the American public favoring marijuana legalization, while 53 percent of residents in the western states approve it. California voters express an even more favorable attitude toward marijuana, with 56 percent supporting full legalization according to The Field Poll released in April 2009 by the Field Research Corporation.
Proposed Legislation Aimed at Legalizing Marijuana
Last year, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano introduced a bill in the California legislature that would create a marijuana regulatory scheme similar to that used for alcohol. AB 390 squeaked through the Public Safety Committee on a 4-3 vote, the Huffington Post reported in January, but did not make its way to the full Assembly in time for consideration.
Building on the support developed over the past year, though, Ammiano reintroduced a similar measure in late February, AB 2254. If passed, this bill will legalize possession, sale, cultivation and other conduct related to marijuana for people over the age of 21.
Voter Initiatives to Permit Marijuana Possession and Sale
However, some voters aren't content to wait on the state assembly to take action on this issue, and are instead taking matters into their own hands. The LA Times reported that Oakland resident Richard Lee has collected nearly 700,000 signatures on a ballot initiative designed to put the question of legalizing pot before the voters. The initiative would permit California residents to grow and possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use.
Lee owns a medical marijuana dispensary and a local educational institution offering classes about marijuana. He underwrote the $1 million spent so far on the initiative and hopes to raise $10 million to $15 million more, the LA Times said.
There are three smaller initiatives brewing in the state that would put marijuana legalization before the voters, but Lee's is the only one with enough signatures to virtually guarantee its place on November's ballot.
Proponents of these efforts argue that legalizing marijuana would allow the state to regulate and tax the drug, and prevent the funds from going into the criminal market. Rather than spending taxpayer money to enforce existing prohibitions against marijuana, the state could raise money by taxing sales of the drug.
In the meantime, though, state laws governing marijuana remain in full effect and the penalties for a conviction for any drug crime remain very real. If you have been accused of possession, sale, or cultivation of marijuana, or any other drug crime, take these accusations seriously. Speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney to understand your rights and protect your interests.