California may not be ready for recreational marijuana, according to remarks made by Governor Jerry Brown earlier this month.Brown worried that legalizing the drug for recreational use could have "ripple effects," and said he is keeping an eye on Colorado and Washington to see how well those states succeed with their newly-legal pot industries. But the governor's stance may not be in step with the general populous, according to Mason Tvert, director of communications for the
"This is an issue on which the public is out in front of their elected officials," he said in an interview. "If governors' opinions on marijuana policy guided public opinion, there wouldn't be 20 states with medical marijuana laws and two states where marijuana is now legal for adults. Few people are surprised when a government official speaks out against marijuana policy reform, so it is unlikely this will change anyone's mind on the issue."
The governor may be fighting a losing battle, argues Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
"In 2016, California voters will pass a legalization initiative," he said.
"In 2010, reformers only lost by 3 percent. Support in California and nationally has gone up significantly since then, and with two minor states like Washington and Colorado being there first across the Reefer Rubicon, a large portion of California voters will not want to be bested by other states over a policy that everyone assumed incorrectly -- including NORML -- that California owned."
But given that the state already allows marijuana to be sold and used for medical purposes, how important is it to push further? Very important, according to St. Pierre.
"From NORML's perspective, California is singularly the most important state in the union to reform cannabis laws," he said.
"The current medical cannabis model in California is not only non-exportable to other states -- the state's inability to pass actual medical cannabis industry regulations is now regularly used as juxtaposition in other states to pass far more restrictive medical access laws. Reformers could spend next 5-10 years flipping 10 or more states to legalize, but none will have the political and economic gravitas of California, which is so close culturally and legally to ending cannabis prohibition once and for all there."
Additionally, this is one case where personal liberty and government taxation actually go hand-in-hand, as Ellen Komp, deputy director for NORML's California branch, points out."There are many medical benefits to marijuana, but an adult shouldn't need a doctor's note just to smoke a joint," she said, "and California won't benefit from tourist dollars like Colorado unless we pass full legalization."
But even beyond these issues, legalizing marijuana could be an important step to eliminating the dangers that come with black-market pot, according to Tvert.
"Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol to the consumer and to society, and it should be treated that way," he said. "Until we end prohibition and regulate the cultivation and sale of marijuana for broader adult use, there will continue to be an underground market and all of the problems associated with it."
While Brown may not be ready to legalize pot in the Golden State, his second-in-command, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, recently argued in favor of the move. The American people also seem to be on board, according to a Gallup poll late last year, which showed 56 percent in favor of legalization.
Photo Credit: AP