Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s response to The Chronicle’s Editorial “No on Prop 19”

Your editorial against Proposition 19 (“No on Prop. 19,” Sept. 16) once again shows that The Chronicle clearly hasn’t done its homework with regard to marijuana policy.

Indeed, the devil is in the details, and with closer review, you would have understood that Prop. 19 is more than just a “slogan or concept.” It is an opportunity to overturn the utter failure of years of marijuana prohibition.

I introduced AB390 nearly two years ago not only to address California’s economic crisis but more importantly to begin a rational discussion about how best to regulate the state’s largest cash crop, estimated to be worth roughly $14 billion a year.

The reality is clear: Marijuana is a huge part of our state’s economy, and we can no longer afford to keep our heads in the sand. The time to act is now. No bill or proposition is perfect, and certainly Prop. 19 has some flaws, but to agree that the “war on drugs” has been an abject failure yet refuse to take action to change it simply defies all logic and common sense.

At what point do we say enough is enough? In 2008 alone, more than 61,000 Californians were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession. That same year, about 60,000 violent crimes went unsolved statewide. Resources tied up fighting marijuana would be better spent solving and preventing violent felonies and other major crimes. In its report on Prop. 19, the state Legislative Analyst’s Office wrote that “jail beds needed for marijuana offenders could be used for other criminals who are now being released early because of a lack of jail space.”

Regulating and controlling marijuana would make it less available to our youth, protect our public lands from illicit crops, generate new revenue and improve public safety by allowing our law enforcement agencies to reprioritize their efforts towardz more serious crimes.

As a member of the state Assembly, I believe we must bring innovation and problem solving toward creating a sane public policy for marijuana, not just stand idly by and wait for the federal government to act. Fighting for same-sex marriage and creating Healthy San Francisco are clear examples of how change happens. Prop. 19 is our opportunity to reform a policy that has been a catastrophe for our state.

This spirit is what makes California great: We lead, not follow, and I urge people to help move California forward with its policy on marijuana before it goes up in smoke.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco

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