Puff, Puff, Pass: Ammiano's Pot Bill Clears Assembly Committee

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Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's bill to legalize -- and tax the hell out of -- Marijuana scraped through the assembly's public safety committee this morning by a 4-3 vote.

Today's tally was, according to Ammiano's staff, the "first formal consideration of Marijuana legalization in American history." While many governmental bodies have approved symbolic resolutions regarding the legalization of pot, today's vote was undertaken by the state representatives who actually have the power to do just that.

Our calls to Ammiano, his staff, and the Marijuana Policy Project have not yet been returned. Perhaps they're ... celebrating.

UPDATE, 11:20 -- Aaron Smith, California regional director of the Marijuana Policy Project, is pretty stoked. "It's only one committee vote so it may not seem like a lot, but this is the first time it's ever happened in the U.S. that a state legislative committee has approved a bill to tax and regulate Marijuana," he said. "This is the committee whose members oversee the state penal code -- and it's voted to send Marijuana prohibition to the ash heap of history."

And yet, "AB 390" is almost certainly not going to pass.

While the bill next needed to be approved by the health committee before reaching the Assembly floor, Ammiano's spokesman, Quintin Mecke, notes that AB 390 likely won't be heard by that committee by the Friday deadline and will "expire." This is not the end of the line, however, as Ammiano can introduce another, identical bill down the road. That bill might be more fast-tracked than AB 390, which was introduced in early 2009 as a "two-year bill" (Ammiano figured that slow timeline would give him time to garner support).

Despite delays and a complex road ahead, today's vote was seen as a milestone by Marijuana supporters.

"The takeaway is that elected politicians are finally catching up with their constituents," said James Anthony, a former Oakland prosecutor and board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "And if they don't, the voters likely will."

In fact, Richard Lee -- the man behind Oaksterdam University in Oakland -- appears likely to get a Marijuana taxation and regulation measure onto the November ballot. Mecke said Ammiano will likely wait and see how that turns out before re-introducing a bill of his own.

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