The state of California made history today! Until today, no U.S. state legislature had ever even considered voting on a measure that would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana. Today, not only did the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee consider it, they voted on and passed A.B. 390!

The Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act, authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) passed the committee by a vote of 4-3, clearing the way for it to move to the Health committee before heading to the Assembly floor for a full vote.

This is huge news not only for the pot smokers of America, but for the people of California who’ve been suffering under a terrible budgetary drought. According to the LA Times, “by some estimates, California’s pot crop is a $14-billion industry, putting it above vegetables ($5.7 billion) and grapes ($2.6 billion). If so, that could mean upward of $1 billion in tax revenue for the state each year.”

And, it signals reason for optimism that that the rest of the country may soon follow suit. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana when 56% of the voters passed Prop 215 in 1996. Oregon, Washington and Alaska followed in 1998. Maine came on board in 1999. Colorado, Hawaii and Nevada legalized medical marijuana in 2000, followed by Montana and Vermont in 2004, Rhode Island in 2006, New Mexico in 2007 and Michigan in 2008. And just this week, New Jersey became the 14th state to approve medical marijuana when the state legislature approved legislation that would make it available from state-licensed dispensaries to seriously ill patients.

Already following California’s lead on dropping the medical requirement from the marijuana, voters in Washington state on Monday announced the start of a petition drive to get a legalization question on the ballot in November, and activists in Nevada are planning a similar campaign.

And the town of Breckenridge, Colorado legalized marijuana in November. The law allowing residents and tourists alike to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, along with the paraphernalia that goes along with it, with no worry of any civil or criminal penalties, went into effect on January 1. And Denver voters actually decriminalized small amounts of pot in the Mile High City, though the state law still makes possession illegal.

The United States is spending an inordinate amount of money and resources in fighting the so-called war on drugs. At a time when every state in the nation is in financial straits, this is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars– money that could certainly be better used to provide necessary services like education and health care.

In June of 2009, Congressman Barney Frank re-introduced his measure “Act to Remove Federal Penalties for Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults.”

Groups like Law Enforcement Professionals Against Prohibition even take it a step further, encouraging legalization of all drugs with this statement on their website:

After nearly four decades of fueling the U.S. policy of a war on drugs with over a trillion tax dollars and 37 million arrests for nonviolent drug offenses, our confined population has quadrupled making building prisons the fastest growing industry in the United States. More than 2.2 million of our citizens are currently incarcerated and every year we arrest an additional 1.9 million more guaranteeing those prisons will be bursting at their seams. Every year we choose to continue this war will cost U.S. taxpayers another 69 billion dollars. Despite all the lives we have destroyed and all the money so ill spent, today illicit drugs are cheaper, more potent, and far easier to get than they were 35 years ago at the beginning of the war on drugs. Meanwhile, people continue dying in our streets while drug barons and terrorists continue to grow richer than ever before. We would suggest that this scenario must be the very definition of a failed public policy. This madness must cease!

So, hurray for California. You know the old saying, As goes California, so goes the nation. Let’s hope that’s true… and let’s hurry!