Monday, November 1, 2010

California Proposition 19 - Legalizing Marijuana

Reportedly as many as 100 million Americans have tried marijuana (also known as "cannabis") in different forms for relaxation, pleasure and/or medicinal purposes, although I greatly doubt the actual number is that high. It's also reported that sales of marijuana products in California alone totaled as much as $14 billion annually in recent years, an incredibly high and a little hard to believe number.

As most knowledgeable voters know, Proposition 19 allows people 21 years or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate, or transport this hemp plant for personal use, but it will have no affect on federal law which generally still forbids these activities. I was originally leaning towards voting for the proposition, but after more research and reflection have decided to oppose it, though with mixed feelings.

There were a number of familiar reasons why I was earlier leaning to support the measure. Legalizing marijuana should restrict funding to the dangerous and criminal drug cartels operating in Mexico and other parts of Central America, as well as in South America, and the many criminal gangs operating in California. That's a good thing. It would probably also save substantial law enforcement resources that are now being spent on arresting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases which could probably be better deployed to combat much more troubling violent crimes. Another reason is that the measure would allow taxation on marijuana sales that, according to the state's Board of Equalization, could generate a badly needed estimated $1.4 billion in new annual revenue.

The above are very compelling reasons for legalization. However, there are also good reasons to oppose the measure as written. First, it doesn't make sense to me that each of hundreds of local municipalities should individually decide how to control and tax marijuana sales as opposed to having a uniform position throughout the state. Another disturbing factor in this debate is the federal government's current law against legalization and the fact that U. S. Attorney General Eric Holder opposes Proposition 19 and has made it clear that federal authorities will continue to prosecute those who violate the federal law. Approval of the measure will lead to a great deal of uncertainty for consumers and dealers, as well as for California authorities, in addition to the need to spend a lot of wasted moneys on lawyers for meetings in Washington, hearings,and trials.

Furthermore, passing the measure will very possibly have some serious unintended consequences affecting public safety and federal funding for our public schools. As opponents have claimed, the measure doesn't provide the Highway Patrol with any tests or objective standards to determine what constitutes driving under the influence, unlike the case with alcohol. It might well also create problems for employers, especially those of bus and truck drivers, who need a strict policy for employees to be drug free for the interest of public safety. Perhaps more important, given the federal law and Mr. Holder's position on prosecution of violators, the measure's passing could jeopardize California's prospects for obtaining federal contracts and funding for our public schools. One superintendent has stated that the school funding at stake could be as much as $9.4 billion! That's a great deal to risk.

While I support the concept of legalization for the reasons cited above, I agree with many of the well-known opponents, including the two main candidates for both governor and state attorney general, that Proposition 19 is not the right measure at this time. It would certainly be desirable for the state and the federal government to be in sync on this issue, and I'm not sure how much this has been pursued or exactly why there is a policy difference at present. That should be examined and the public advised. In any case, it seems to me that the new governor and state legislature should at least seriously pursue a modified proposition that would apply to the entire state and address the major weaknesses brought up by opponents, such as the public safety issues and the standards that would be applied by the Highway Patrol and other authorities.

1 comment:

Thomas Dale said...

Marijuana to me doesn't seem too different from alcohol. If abused, both lead to damaging consequences. For the vast majority, I think the people who are going to are already using it anyway. Might as well get some tax benefit from it, take away cash flow from criminal organizations and allow the police to focus on more important issues.