McGeorge School of Law

In Legalizing Marijuana: California's Pot of Gold?

October 12, 2010

In Legalizing Marijuana: California's Pot of Gold?, Professor Michael Vitiello offers a dispassionate view of the true facts behind California's rush to legalize marijuana Proposition 19 on the November general election ballot.

Abstract: In early 2009, a member of the California Assembly put a bill in the hopper that would have legalized marijuana in an effort to raise tax revenue and to reduce prison costs. While the bill's proponent withdrew the bill, he vowed to renew his efforts in the next term. Other prominent California officials, including Governor Schwarzenegger, have indicated their willingness to study legalization in light of California's budget shortfall. For the first time in over thirty years, politicians are giving serious consideration to a proposal to legalize marijuana. But already, the public debate has degenerated into traditional passionate advocacy, with ardent prohibitionists raising the specter of doom and marijuana advocates promising over a billion dollars in tax revenues along with about a billion dollars in reduced prison costs. Rather than rehashing the old debate about legalizing marijuana, Professor Vitiello's essay offers a balanced view of the proposal to legalize marijuana, specifically as a measure to raise revenue and to reduce prison costs. It raises some of the central problems with proponents' arguments, including how their goal of reducing prison costs effectively undercuts their goal of raising revenue. In addition, it challenges extravagant claims of the prohibitionists that legalizing marijuana will lead to significant increases in marijuana use and attendant social harm. In the end, he offers only a mild endorsement for legalization.