California: Historic Victory for Marijuana Legalization

January 12, 2010 – When the Assembly Public Safety Committee voted 4-3 this morning to approve Assembly Bill 390 – legislation by Tom Ammiano that would legalize and tax marijuana, even for purely recreational use – it was an unprecedented action in the United States.

“It’s huge. It’s exciting. And we really have to thank [Democratic committee members Nancy] Skinner, [Jerry] Hill, and Jared Huffman for their support,” Ammiano told the Guardian. “I’m feeling really gratified.”

Unfortunately, the bill has now been referred to the Assembly Health Committee and the full Assembly must approve a rule waiver to get it heard by Friday’s deadline for such two-year bills to clear committee. Even if that happens, the Health Committee is larger and filled with more moderate Democrats, so it’s chances of being approved in this session are slim.

“It doesn’t diminish what happened today. If it dies, we’ll reintroduce it by the end of the month,” Ammiano said. His press secretary, Quintin Mecke, told us, “This is the first time in U.S. history – not just California history, but U.S. history – that a bill that would legalize marijuana has passed a legislative committee.”

That victory was far from assured, despite the extensive groundwork that Ammiano did over the last year and the fact that he chairs the committee. Until recently, the swing vote on the committee seemed to be Fiona Ma, the San Francisco Democrat who served with Ammiano on the Board of Supervisors, but who is close to law enforcement and seemed to be leaning against the bill.

But the Assembly Speaker’s Office recently removed Ma from the committee, replacing her with Huffman. Another Democrat on the committee, Warren Furutani from Long Beach, voted against the bill along with the committee’s two Republicans. Mecke said he’ll know more tomorrow about the bill’s prospects.

“We’ll just enjoy our victory today and work out the legislative machinations tomorrow,” he said. “We knew this was going to be the first step in a larger battle.”

Another front in that battle is a marijuana legalization initiative, funded by Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, that appears to have more than enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Mecke notes that the initiative allows for some legislative tinkering if it’s approved, just as the medical marijuana measure Prop. 215 was followed up by SB 420, which set standards and guidelines. So the Legislature’s involvement with marijuana legalization could be just beginning.

“Today’s vote should give voters confidence that California’s failed and unjust war on marijuana consumers will soon come to an end,” Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, who testified before the committee today, said in a prepared statement. “It’s an encouraging sign that most members of the committee presiding over the state’s penal code have voted to toss marijuana prohibition onto the ash heap of history.” Source.

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