Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

June 22, 2010
Sacramento sheriff, retired OC judge spar over legal marijuana

Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said California will save hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement costs by legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said public agencies will lose untold millions in federal grant money and private employees will face difficult workplace challenges if pot goes legal.

The two law enforcement figures offered competing views today in a Sacramento debate over the November initiative to legalize marijuana beyond current medical use, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

"I'm convinced when we pass this and actually control and regulate marijuana, literally taxpayers of California will save hundreds of millions of dollars in what is now being spent in a futile effort to eradicate marijuana, the largest cash crop in the state," Gray told the Sacramento gathering.

While the retired judge cited a state Board of Equalization estimate that legal pot sales could generate $1.3 billion in total tax revenues in California, McGinness argued that the initiative is flawed and may actually create new black market for untaxed marijuana.

"I think the revenue to be gained is likely negligible," the McGinness said.

The sheriff argued that the measure could cause law enforcement and other public agencies to lose federal grants because legal pot could violate federal "drug-free workplace" rules.

He said private employers could also face challenges from legal pot because "people can possess and use immediately before and after work.

"It's very difficult to make a determination as to whether or not they're under the influence at any given time," he said.

In ruling on California's current medical marijuana law, the California Supreme Court has said legal marijuana use doesn't supersede workplace rules. It has ruled that employees can be fired or disciplined for pot use even if they are legal marijuana patients.

The Gray-McGinness debate took place at the Sol Collective in Sacramento. Despite its name - similar to those of marijuana dispensaries - the site has no ties to the pot business. It is a local art gallery and community center.

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