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Arnold Schwarzenegger: it’s high time to review marijuana law

Arnold Schwarzenegger has never apologised for smoking pot – and loving it — at the height of his bodybuilding career in the 1970s. Now, as a struggling Republican governor of California reaching a crossroads in his political career, he might yet become America’s most visible advocate for legalising marijuana.

The actor-turned-politician gladdened the heart of every joint-roller and dope fiend across the Golden State earlier this week when he said it was time for a full debate on legalisation.

Schwarzenegger was careful not to say too much – he stopped shorting of saying he was in favour of legalising cannabis now – but his words broke a long-standing taboo among both Republicans and Democrats who have previously felt obliged to say marijuana must remain illegal, and marijuana users and pushers be subject to criminal prosecution.

The governor spoke in response to a new public opinion poll showing that 56% of registered voters in California favour legalising and taxing marijuana – in part to help the state out of the worst budget crisis in its history. The state faces a shortfall of billions of dollars a year because of the bad economy, and public services from schools to hospitals to fire-fighting services are under mounting threat.

Asked if he too favoured legalisation, Schwarzenegger told reporters: “Well, I think it’s not time for that, but I think it’s time for a debate. I think all of those ideas of creating extra revenues [are worth considering] … I think we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalised marijuana and other drugs. What effect did it have on those countries?”

The redwood forests of northern California are famous for their marijuana cultivation, creating an underground economy that has continued to thrive despite America’s decades-long war on drugs. The Golden State has been a leading rebel against the federal government’s strict interdiction policies, becoming the first of 14 US states to allow marijuana for medical use as far back as 1996.

Legalisation, however, has never been a serious part of the agenda.

The most immediate effect of the governor’s comments is likely to be a boost for a legalisation bill recently introduced in the state assembly by a San Francisco liberal Democrat called Tom Ammiano. Such bills pop up every few years and are almost always ignored or defeated, but this one may just be different now.

“I look forward to working with the governor and my colleagues in the effort to be the first state in the nation to enact commonsense policy on marijuana,” an elated Ammiano said. His proposed system of legalising and taxing marijuana would raise an estimated $1.3bn a year in tax revenue alone, according to state legislative analysts. The savings in law enforcement and incarceration costs could be many billions more.

Schwarzenegger may feel he has little to lose. He feels out of step within an increasingly rigid, increasingly hardline conservative Republican party, and the economic crisis in California has pushed his popularity ratings below 40%.

Republican governor of California breaks long-standing taboo with call for debate on cannabis legislation

‘Marijuana is not a drug, it’s a leaf,’ says Schwarzenegger

Already facing enough problems with the wild fires that have swept California, the state’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have stepped into a new row by claiming that marijuana is not a drug. In an interview with GQ magazine, the Hollywood star turned governor of California insisted: “I didn’t take any drugs.”

The interviewer, former Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan, put it to the star that he had admitted smoking marijuana in the past. In Pumping Iron, the bodybuilding documentary which launched his career 30 years ago, he was shown taking a drag on a spliff.

“That is not a drug. It’s a leaf,” said Austrian-born Mr Schwarzenegger, 60. “My drug was pumping iron, trust me,” he added.

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When George Butler’s critically acclaimed 1977 documentary Pumping Iron was re-released in 2002, before Mr Schwarzenegger ran for governor of California, he was unconcerned by the scene showing him smoking marijuana, saying – in a pointed reference to former US president Bill Clinton who claimed never to have inhaled: “I did smoke a joint and I did inhale. The bottom line is that’s what it was in the Seventies, that’s what I did. I have never touched it since.” Mr Schwarzenegger said that it was not necessarily a matter of public interest whether politicians had taken class-A drugs.

He said: “What would you rather have? A politician taking the stuff and not saying, but making the best decisions and improving things? Or a politician who names the drugs he or she has taken but makes lousy decisions for the country?”

The Republican governor, renowned for his green policies, said Washington had not done enough on the environment. “So we pick up the slack and show the rest of the world America is not just Washington. There are 600 mayors in America who have joined the Kyoto treaty. For us, it is very important that America gets back the great reputation it once had.”

He said: “I think we have to do everything we can as a country to get out of the Iraq war, and to take a lead on the environment.”

Despite his insistence that the US must finish the war in Iraq, Mr Schwarzenegger included Tony Blair in a list of the greatest leaders in history, alongside Nelson Mandela, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

Already facing enough problems with the wild fires that have swept California, the state’s governor Arnold Schwarzenegger may have stepped into a new row by claiming that marijuana is not a drug. In an interview with GQ magazine, the Hollywood star turned governor of California insisted: "I didn’t take any drugs." ]]>