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Schwarzenegger: Time To Debate Legalizing Pot


In the last week or two, proposals to legalize medical marijuana have advanced in Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken a significant step further, saying on Tuesday that it's time to debate legalizing marijuana for recreational use in California.

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

Thanks to a 1996 ballot measure, medical marijuana is already legal under California law, though local officials have substantial discretion. Although that conflicts with federal law, the Obama administration has chosen not to target California medical marijuana dispensaries.

"Most Californians support the idea of making marijuana legal," Aaron Smith, the California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told "Right now, the state is in a budget fiasco that not going to go away soon... It's about time they look outside the box at ways of generating revenue."

State legislator Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced a bill in February to legalize recreational marijuana. Bill AB 390 would license "commercial cultivators of marijuana" and establish a complicated web of regulations and tax rules they and retailers must follow.

It could raise over $1.2 billion a year in new tax revenues, assuming a $50-an-ounce tax, according to one analysis.

"This is only going to increase the governor's popularity," Smith said. "We have solid polling data showing that a majority of Californians are ready for this. It's a good political move, though I don't think he necessarily did it for those reasons alone."

A Field poll (PDF) released on April 30th found that 56 percent of the state's registered voters support legalizing marijuana and taxing its proceeds.'s Charles Cooper contributed to this report

Local Video from CBS 5 in San Francisco

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    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.