Legalize marijuana? Schwarzenegger says let's debate it

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    California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (not actual size) on Tuesday said it was time for a discussion on the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana. Although he said he doesn't support it now, he welcomed a debate on the issue.
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It wasn't as though Arnold Schwarzenegger held a press conference with Cheech and Chong in the back of a van and said, "Whoa, I have this awesome idea, man..."

The governor was asked if he would support the legalization and taxation of marijuana to help the state of California get out of its budgetary mess.

No, he doesn't support that -- at least right now. He said specifically, "No, I think it's not time for that."

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Debate

It was the rest of his statement, however, that's caused a stir around the pro-legalization world. The governor said it should be talked about.

"I think it's time for a debate," he said. "I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues, I'm always for an open debate on it."

As part of that debate, the governor said Californians need to look to the countries -- like his native Austria -- that have already relaxed drug laws.

"I think that we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect it had on those countries, and are they happy with that decision," he said. "Or, like for instance in Austria, I've heard that they are unhappy with that and they want to roll back some of the decisions that were made in European countries."

Poll

Late last week, the director of a pro-marijuana legalization group praised a recent poll that showed 56 percent of Californians are OK with the legalization and taxation of marijuana.

"Right now people in the Capitol are laughing off the idea of taxing and regulating marijuana. This will show them there's some serious voter support on the issue," said Aaron Smith, the Marijuana Policy Project's California policy director.

It's not just a California poll. A WashingtonPost/ABC survey, also released last week, revealed that 46 percent of Americans support legalization of small amounts of marijuana for personal use -- that's double the support it had a decade ago.

Money

If it were legalized and taxed, how much of an impact would it have on California's budget? According to the author of a bill in the California State Assembly, it could add $1.3 billion to the state's coffers.

But Assemblyman Tom Ammiano said it's not about the money.

"It's also about the failure of the war on drugs and implementing a more enlightened policy," he told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I've always anticipated that there could be a perfect storm of political will and public support, and obviously the federal policies are leaning more toward states' rights."

Reader comments

Regardless, there were plenty of comments from our readers on the topic.

Carolyn said there were two ways to look at legalization:

"Does CA on pot make the economy look better OR does the economy on pot make CA look better?"

CWB was touched:

"I almost cried with joy when I saw this."

Tom has renewed faith in the government:

"Could it be possible that some rational thinking has entered national politics? If so, then I think I love that big goofy Austrian musclehead. Now, once the Governator has straightened out the great state of Cal-E-fornya, he can move on to get the cultivation of hemp as a food/fuel/textile on the ballots and into practice. GO Arnold!"

Matt94 said legalization will do more harm:

"Legalizing marijuana will have zero impact on cocaine, heroin and the like. So while it may let the pro-drug folks get what they want, it does nothing to help the hard core addicts of the “hard” drugs or the ever increasing prescription drug abusers. It doesn’t reduce crime in our cities (more personal and property crime is attributable to cocaine, meth and heroin users than marijuana). The Mexican drug cartels that currently smuggle drugs into the country will not suddenly stop smuggling, become law-abiding, tax-paying entrepreneurs, and cut their profit margin in the name of generating tax revenue for the U.S. government. They will continue to smuggle and traffic illegally, with the routes that have been long established as successful. The impact on law enforcement will increase, not decrease, as they enforce additional laws about who/what/where drugs are legal. The cost of regulation, licensing, etc will result in increased government expense at the local, state and federal levels."

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