With the next statewide election a year away, efforts to get a measure legalizing marijuana on the ballot have already started.
The proposed ballot measure would legalize possession of marijuana for adults 21 and older in California, allowing the state to tax and regulate its sale. The petition, which was started by supporters in San Francisco late last month, will need over 400,000 signatures to appear on the November 2010 ballot.
While proponents of the measure argue that legalizing and taxing marijuana would create a new revenue stream for cash-strapped California, opponents are concerned with the dangers posed by the drug.
The potential for increased revenue has drawn support for the petition from several California political figures, including former state Senate President pro tempore Don Perata. In a statement released Friday, Perata said this proposal could solve some of California’s financial difficulties.
“In this time of economic uncertainty, it’s time we thought outside the box and [bring] in revenue we need to restore the California dream,” Perata said.
Critics of the petition, however, argue that marijuana is a dangerous substance, the consumption of which should be prohibited by law.
Shereen Khatapoush, director of Santa Barbara’s Youth Services System Council on Alcoholism & Drug Abuse, said making marijuana more accessible would lead to more drug abuse.
“When you make something more available, its use will go up,” she said. “And, it will lead to great harm for many people.”
With the state facing severe revenue shortfalls and rising costs associated with its prison system, proponents of the measure seem consistent in their message.
“Legalizing cannabis would add about $1.4 billion in revenue, not including money saved in law enforcement and prosecution,” Salwa Ibrahim, a Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 campaign member, said in an interview.
Moreover, the California’s Legislative Analyst’s Office — the state legislature’s fiscal advisory body — agrees that taxing marijuana would increase state revenue and decrease costs pertaining to incarceration.
“The measure could result in significant savings to state and local governments,” the report said. “Potentially, [it would save] up to several tens of millions of dollars annually by reducing the number of marijuana offenders incarcerated in state prisons and county jails.”
For Khatapoush, who opposes the measure, current trends among local school children are cause for alarm.
“When you compare our data to kids across state, they use more marijuana,” Khatapoush, referencing results from last year’s Healthy Kids Survey, a state survey given to public school students — said. “We already have a bigger problem with marijuana, and it’s not just experimental. It’s heavy, frequent use, and it’s increasing.”
Despite the arguments against the petition, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said the initiative could benefit California. UCSB NORML Co-chair Stanley Cui said he believes the advantages would be local as well.
“Imagine what the $1 billion plus in tax revenue could do for the UC system,” Cui said. “For us in Santa Barbara, legalizing marijuana would eliminate illegal farms in the national forest, which pose a safety and fire hazard.”