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Assembly committee OKs bill to legalize marijuana

January 12, 2010 | 10:52 am

A proposal to legalize and tax marijuana in California was approved by a key committee of the Assembly this morning, over the dire warnings of police chiefs and prosecutors.

The Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 to approve AB 390 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), who said the bill would provide tax revenue to the state and regulation of the drug. The new law includes a requirement that users be at least 21 years old.

The measure next goes to the Health Committee, but proponents worried it would not be acted on by that panel by Friday's deadline, which would require the proposal to be reintroduced to be heard this year by the full Assembly.

"The way it exists now is harming our youth,'' Ammiano said. "Drug dealers do not ask for ID. We need to regulate something that has gone chaotic, has resulted in carnage. I understand it's not everybody's cup of tea.''

Assemblyman Danny Gilmore (R-Hanford), a former CHP commander, said the $50 tax on each ounce of marijuana sold to pay for drug education and treatment is not worth the grief that will be caused by legalization.

"We're going to legalize marijuana, we're going to tax it and then we're going to educate our kids about the harm of drugs. You've got to be kidding me,'' Gilmore said. "What's next? Are we going to legalize methamphetamines, cocaine?''

The measure was opposed in testimony today by several police chiefs and law enforcement officials including Bob Cooke, former president of the California Narcotics Officers Assn., who predicted it would lead to an increase in crime. "The mere consideration of an attempt to trade human misery for tax dollars smacks of the cynical throwing away of countless human beings,'' Cooke told the committee.

It is estimated that the bill would generate $1.3 billion a year in taxes and marijuana cultivation fees.

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento