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Pot Legalization: An Idea No Self-Respecting Capitalist Can Resist?

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
What with the deep divide between Democrats and Republicans on a range of issues these days, might the push to legalize marijuana galvanize erstwhile political opponents to rally behind the issue? Given the current rancor in Washington, any predictions are fraught, but the marijuana legalization movement thinks it has a bi-partisan winner on its hands.

No thanks to any epiphany in Washington D.C. Rather, pot legalization proponents believe the question is destined to become a states rights issue -helped in no small part by the lure of old-fashioned capitalism.
"To put it crassly, there's gold in them thar hills and people recognize that," says California state assembly member, Tom Ammiano. He added that there are increasing feelers from entrepreneurs in his state regarding the question of marijuana legalization. "They smell something important," he said.

Ammiano was speaking Thursday afternoon on a teleconference organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that advocates for pot legalization. With the year about to finish up, marijuana advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance point to recent developments as evidence that the debate over marijuana legalization is turning in their favor. In California, for example, more than 680,000 people have signed a petition to up a Tax and Regulate initiative up for a ballot vote next year. Special Report: Marijuana Nation
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"I think this could become a states rights issue, Ammiano said, adding that "if it is regulated and there is revenue, I think there'll be a lot of emulation. It won't be isolated to California."

Roger Goodman, a state representative in Washington state where he co-authored a bill to regulate marijuana for adult use like alcohol, echoed Ammiano, predicting that the impetus for pot legalization is going to come from the states. Describing the war on drugs as "a bipartisan disaster," Goodman likewise suggested that economics would force the question onto more state agendas. He has a strong argument. In the aftermath of a nationwide recession that is forcing deep budget cuts, the idea of marijuana becoming a cash crop has suddenly become a rallying cry.

Indeed, in cash-strapped California, where the state is looking at a $22 billion budget deficit, there's growing grass roots support to legalize and tax cannabis. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said marijuana taxes could raise as much as $1.3 billion. In April, a California Field Poll found that 56% of state voters favored a plan to legalize and tax pot.

An October Gallup poll found U.S. support for pot legalization reaching a new high with 44% in favor and 54% opposed. Though marijuana possession is still a crime in most states, 14 states allow its use in medical situations.

"This is an issue that has been simmering," said Goodman. "And it is ripe."

Maybe so but the lingering question is whether economic self-interest can trump cultural conservatism. Even with the recent gains in public opinion support, marijuana legalization advocates need to press their case in a country where majority opinion still remains against them. And with a midterm national election on the horizon - not to mention jockeying for the next presidential race already underway - opposition to pot legalization could easily turn into a campaign issue for "values" candidates.

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