Chronic debate - Page 2

THE DRUG ISSUE: Marijuana decriminalization moves forward on several fronts

He points to the relative lack of growth in new municipalities that allow medical dispensaries since voters approved Prop. 215, calling it evidence of pot-related NIMBYism.

"Everyone says they support it, but they don't want it in their own backyards," said Mirkarimi, who wants San Francisco to become the first U.S. city to add marijuana to the list of medicines it dispenses. "But the city Attorney's Office is shy about pushing this envelope."

Mirkarimi wants to follow Oakland's example and add a gross receipts tax to medical marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco.

But the legalization push has its fervent critics. At a recent Commonwealth Club debate on the economics of marijuana, El Cerrito Police Chief Scott Kirkland, who led the charge to ban medical dispensaries in his city, tried to discredit arguments that legalization will save money.

"I'm very disappointed with the state," Kirkland said, claiming that the BOE's analysis drew almost exclusively on the work of Jon Gettman, a former director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"We have to have statistics we can rely on," said Kirkland, who then cited the same BOE report — it estimates that pot prices will drop 50 percent and consumption will increase 40 percent — to support his contention that legalization will lead to increased substance abuse.

Kirkland also challenged the notion that Mexican drug cartels will leave once the pot business is legitimized and regulated. "They understand that the money involved is astronomical," he said. "It's wishful thinking that if you legalize marijuana, all of a sudden the cartels go away."

He also disputed claims that legalization would help empty state prisons. "It's very common for advocates to associate legalization with reducing the costs of incarceration, but it's a fallacy," Kirkland said. "It's very rarely that a person goes to prison for their original offense."

Kirkland topped off his attack by citing the state's June 19 decision to add marijuana smoke to its Proposition 65 list of substances known to contain carcinogens.

But BOE spokesperson Anita Gore refuted claims that their analysis relied entirely on reform advocates' research. "Being as this is an underground activity, the resources are limited," Gore said. "But our researchers and economists used econometric models that are generally accepted and looked at all the available resources, which included academic and law enforcement studies."

Gettmann told the Guardian he uses data from NSDUH, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, the Office of National Drug Control, and the Bureau of International Narcotics — sources the prohibitionists also draw on. He admits that it's hard to quantify a black market.

"But it's easy for anyone to understand basic regulatory economic theory," Getmann said. "Marijuana use produces costs for society, but is largely untaxed. So users and sellers reap benefits, while taxpayers bear the costs."

He believes many advantages of legalization are qualitative. "It's a better regulatory system for financial and fiscal reasons and for restricting access on the part of teenagers," Gettman said.

Stephen Gutwillig, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, points to research by the Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice in San Francisco, which found that arrest rates for everything in California have declined since 1990 — with the exception of low-level marijuana crimes. CJCJ's research shows that rates for this group increased 127 percent since 1990, and 25 percent in the last two years.

"It's a system run amok," Gutwillig said. He notes that of the 74,000 people arrested for marijuana-related offenses, 20,000 are youth.