U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein still has doubts about legalizing marijuana in California, adding her voice Wednesday to mounting debate about the wisdom of legitimizing the drug following tax-generating efforts in Colorado and Washington.
"The risk of people using marijuana and driving is very substantial," Feinstein, D-California, told the Associated Press in an interview.
It has been 18 years since California became the first state to decriminalize marijuana for medical purposes. Four years ago, voters here rejected Proposition 19, which would have lifted the ban on adults 21 and older from smoking, growing and transporting pot for recreational purposes.
At the time, Feinstein signed the ballot argument against the initiative. She called the proposal "a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe."
In the interview Wednesday, Feinstein said it was unclear how the culture would improve through legalizing marijuana. She said serving during the 1960s on the California Women's Board of Terms and Parole gave her first-hand experience of how marijuana negatively impacted the lives of women inmates.
Said Feinstein: "I saw a lot of where people began with marijuana and went on to hard drugs."
Feinstein's remarks closely follow a nationally televised interview with Gov. Jerry Brown in which the Democrat questioned whether pot legalization would stymie the state's competitive advantages.
"The problem with anything, a certain amount is OK. But there is a tendency to go to extremes," Brown said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "And all of a sudden, if there's advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?"
The views expressed by the two long-serving politicians contrast with a growing number of Californians and the state's Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
A December Field Poll found that - for the first time in more than four decades - a clear majority of Californians support lifting the prohibition on marijuana. Meantime, Newsom is helping spearhead a special blue-ribbon panel of legal, medical and law enforcement experts to study potential regulations and taxes.
Colorado generated about $2 million in marijuana taxes in January, officials said.
Newsom recently reaffirmed his support for legalization at the state Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles, drawing him into a debate with Republican challenger Ron Nehring, who has made his opposition a key part of his platform.
PHOTO: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, talks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 2, 2013. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)