Legalize It, Tax It

Hearing looks at possibility of legalizing marijuana

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It's a hot topic -- legalizing pot and taxing it -- and today it has a date in court.

Longtime marijuana legalization advocate Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco will take the high seat at The Assembly Committee on Public Safety in Sacramento Wednesday. The hearing will examine the social, economic and legal implications of decriminalizing marijuana and policing its use the same way alcohol is regulated.

And, why not? Many people agree that taxes from pot could pull California out of it's deep debt. And to some, marijuana is medication. The idea that marijuana is a "gateway drug" has been disputed and studied but the debate rages on over whether it is truly addictive.

A study by the group RAND disputes the claim that smoking marijuana leads to harder drugs. The nonprofit group found that, "The people who are predisposed to use drugs and have the opportunity to use drugs are more likely than others to use both marijuana and harder drugs."

Wednesday's hearing is an informational session to review recent developments in the general field of marijuana legalization, Ammiano spokesman Quintin Mecke said.

Mecke cited a report issued by the state Board of Equalization in July that estimated that regulation and taxation of marijuana could bring California $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is personally against legalization but agrees that the issue should be debated.

Oakland is already taking advantage of the popularity of pot. Voters in Oakland last year approved a 1.8 percent tax on medical cannabis businesses -- the first of it's kind in the U.S. A recent Field Poll found that more than half of all resigtered voters in California support legalizing and taxing marijuana.

California already has some of the country's loosest rules on marijuana for medical use under Proposition 215. The Compassionate Use Act, passed by voters in 1996, allows patients with a valid doctor's recommendation to qualify for a medical marijuana card.

Ammiano is not alone in his push to make marijuana a cash crop for California. The idea of taxing marijuana has gotten a lot of attention lately because of the possibilities of the tax issue but also because, some say, it could help ease the drug trade across the Mexican border.

Ammiano called the hearing a "long  overdue discussion of how to best regulate and tax marijuana."

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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