Will California Legalize Marijuana?

California is currently considering a couple of bills that could effectively legalize marijuana use. One plan would place a heavy excise tax on the drug—which could help plug the state's gaping budget deficit. Another would "de-penalize" cannibis use, so that getting caught with the drug would likely only result in a ticket.

Big Think spoke with Columbia University psychology professor Carl Hart who said he wasn't particularly impressed with the California proposals, noting that similar movements had failed in the past. While he liked the idea of raising tax revenue from pot, he said that decriminalizing just marijuana would risk not addressing similar issues with other drugs.

"I don't like the idea of separating marijuana from other drugs," said Hart. "There's a movement in the country to say marijuana isn't like cocaine, isn't like meth, isn't like heroin." He said that these distinctions don't take enough into account, and that the trouble with addiction to any of these drugs is less about their pharmacological effects, and more about the social conditions under which they are consumed.

Hart suggested the U.S. should follow the lead of Portugal, which has effectively decriminalized all drugs, allowing users to face non-criminal administrative proceedings when they are caught rather than criminal charges. "It provides less of a taxing on our criminal justice resources, and allows young people to make mistakes without having a criminal record that follows them for the rest of their lives," said Hart.

Another Big Think interviewee, former High Times magazine editor John Buffalo Mailer, told us today that he would be surprised to see the legalization efforts go through: "Given the environmental and economic benefits of hemp, not to mention the medicinal and economic value of marijuana, it seems insane to me that we still have the draconian laws in place we do for marijuana possession anywhere in this country," Mailer said. "That is until you take into account the several large industries who benefit from marijuana's illegal status, namely the oil, cotton, tobacco, alcohol, and prison industries. If we were to legalize the plant, they would all take a hit.  Combined, that is a tremendous amount of lobbying power. So, I would be surprised if we see legalization any time soon."

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