Legalizing Marijuana: California's Pot of Gold?

39 Pages Posted: 5 Sep 2010 Last revised: 6 May 2017

See all articles by Michael Vitiello

Michael Vitiello

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law


In early 2009, a member of the California Assembly introduced a bill that would have legalized marijuana in an effort to raise tax revenue and 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 billions of dollars in tax revenues and reduced prison costs. Rather than rehashing the old debate about legalizing marijuana, this 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. Additionally, 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, the author offers a mild endorsement for legalization.

Suggested Citation

Vitiello, Michael, Legalizing Marijuana: California's Pot of Gold?. Wisconsin Law Review, 2009, Pacific McGeorge School of Law Research Paper No. 10-09, Available at SSRN:

Michael Vitiello (Contact Author)

University of the Pacific - McGeorge School of Law ( email )

3200 Fifth Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95817
United States

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