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March 23, 2005

Gary Storck: Ordinance 23.20 turns 28 April 5 -- The next step: Tax & Regulate?

Posted by Gary Storck
March 23, 2005

As Madison voters go to the polls this April 5th, many may not be aware that the date is the 28th anniversary of the day Madison made history by voting to legalize the medical use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation as well as to decriminalize the personal possession of a specified amount of marijuana on private property.

It was on April 5, 1977, when Madison voters passed Question 6, which became Madison General Ordinance 23.20 click here, by a 60/40 margin. Signatures to put Question 6 on the ballot had actually been gathered and filed in 1976, but the November 1976 ballot was crowded with other initiatives, including two advisory referendums about marijuana, and it was placed on the spring ballot. The November 1976 advisory referendums regarding decriminalization and legalization both passed, with voters narrowly supporting legalization by a less than 300 vote margin and giving the nod to decriminalization by a 63/37% margin with a 20,000+-vote edge.

A Nov. 4, 1976 Wisconsin State Journal news article about the results notes that at the time marijuana decriminalization had the support of groups from "the State Council on Drug Abuse to the League of Women Voters to the State Council on Criminal Justice," as well as the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (WAAODA).

The Purpose section at the beginning of Ordinance 23.20 eloquently lays out why it was so popular with voters; "The people of Madison specifically determine that the regulations herein contained concerning marijuana and cannabis are necessary to serve the ethical purpose of providing just and equitable legal treatment of the citizens of this community and to preserve the respect of such citizens for law, its process, and its administration."

These words ring as true today as they did 28 years ago. And as Madison was in the forefront of cannabis law reform three decades ago when 23.20 was enacted, it's time to discuss the next logical step: Removing marijuana from the criminal market and taxing and regulating it.

This is not a new idea. The Netherlands has been tolerating regulated sales of cannabis in coffeeshops since 1976.

It is not a new idea for North America either. While serving in the Massachusetts legislature in 1981, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, Jr. introduced, by request, House Bill 1737, the Massachusetts Cannabis Revenue and Education Bill, to create a Cannabis Control Authority to regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana.

Last November voters in Oakland California passed Measure Z click here, which deprioritizes private, adult marijuana offenses including possession, sales, and cultivation, by a 2 to 1 margin. The measure also asks the city to establish a system to tax and regulate sales to adults to sell through licensed businesses as soon as possible under state law.

Like 23.20, Measure Z is open to interpretation and the will of the city officials to implement it. But it still offers a road map to more rational drug policies at the local level.

While mostly peaceful, Madison's currently unregulated cannabis market has seen robberies, murders and other violence. In an illegal market, a pot dealer could also be a meth dealer. Regulation would bring order to this market in the same way the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933 brought an end to years of violence. If we are serious about wanting to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, it needs to be regulated like tobacco and alcohol. In a city where alcohol related mayhem is a daily occurrence, regulated access to cannabis would offer a safer alternative for those who react badly to alcohol.

Madison's many responsible adult cannabis consumers, including medicinal users, are not criminals. Regulating sales of cannabis would make Madison a safer and healthier place to live.

Posted by Gary at March 23, 2005 10:12 AM


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