Marijuana activists seize on California fiscal jam

Fri Dec 18, 2009 1:46am EST
 
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By Dan Whitcomb and Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With California teetering perpetually on the edge of financial ruin, marijuana activists have seized the moment, claiming that legalizing and taxing pot could help bail out the cash-strapped Golden State.

But critics are slamming the proposal, saying the social costs of a free-smoking state far outweigh the money it would bring in, and that a promised windfall from taxing marijuana sales couldn't possibly plug California's massive budget gap.

Voters are likely to confront the issue next year. Marijuana advocates say they have collected more than enough signatures, over 680,000, to qualify for November's ballot with a proposal to make California the first U.S. state to legalize possession and cultivation of pot for recreational use.

Passage remains far from certain, even in socially permissive California.

Fifteen years after Californians led the nation in approving the use of cannabis for medical purposes, fierce political debate is raging over a recent mushrooming of medicinal pot dispensaries in Los Angeles and other cities.

In northern California towns like Arcata and Eureka, where pot has long been part of the social fabric and local economy, illicit growers have reportedly stepped up production to meet rising demand generated by the proliferation of clinics around the state of 38 million.

'PROHIBITION IS CHAOS'

Under the latest initiative, simple possession of an ounce (28.5 grams) or less of marijuana, currently a misdemeanor offense punishable by a $100 fine, would be legal for anyone at least 21. It also would be lawful to grow limited amounts in one's own home for personal use.   Continued...