Up in smoke? California’s quest to legalize pot
Get enough signatures to get Proposition 19 on the California ballot- check. Raise enough money to educate the voters- check. Convince dark blue Californians that legalizing marijuana is a good idea- not so easy.
Proposition 19 is a ballot initiative that would effectively end prohibition of marijuana production, possession, and consumption. While the little green plant would be under some restrictions statewide, it would be up to individual cities to write the rules of enforcement.
The proposition was the creation of Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur who spent more than $1.5 million to draft legislation and convince voters of the benefits if pot is legalized. The campaign has attracted some high-profile names like George Soros who donated money to the legalize marijuana campaign.
Billionaire Soros penned an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal discussing his reason for donating money to the campaign for legalization of pot.
“Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on Election Day. The mere fact of its being on the ballot has elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy in ways I could not have imagined a year ago,” Soros wrote. “Just as the process of repealing national alcohol prohibition began with individual states repealing their own prohibition laws, so individual states must now take the initiative with respect to repealing marijuana prohibition laws.”
Those who favor legalization claim tax-revenue funds would be used to combat minor marijuana crime and allow law enforcement to focus on serious crimes. Another claim proponents are touting are the billions in tax revenue that could be generated from the sale of pot.
Those opposed to legalization of marijuana explain the voters are being sold a bill of goods about the increased tax revenue and organizers are downplaying the addiction rates. Opponents also contend that smoking pot will lead to more drug abuse and create other dangers like driving under the influence, encourage illicit drug activity south of the border and increase petty crime.
In a San Diego Union Tribune op-ed story titled- Prop. 19: The promise is not the reality, the San Diego District Attorney, Bonnie Dumanis and Sheriff William Gore spotlights the perils of legalizing marijuana.
“The ‘bait and switch’ is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Unfortunately, it’s being used again by proponents of Proposition 19, the initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that would legalize marijuana. Voters are being misled by this poorly written initiative that promises one thing but delivers something very different,” the opinion begins.
Dumanis and Gore say the truth about Proposition 19 is it will not regulate or tax pot as its authors contend, but it will shoulder the burden on local governments to create the legal framework and then enforce the rules at a very costly expense to cities in California who are already struggling with deepening budget deficits.
The end result will be a confusing patchwork of laws and zero revenue for the state of California.
Opponents describe a number of flaws contained in the proposition. Imagine you are headed home after a long day at the office and you get into a car accident, but the driver tests negative for alcohol; he may be high and cops have no way to determine at the scene if marijuana was the culprit, plus passengers in the car can smoke while driving.
Another dilemma voters need to consider with Proposition 19 is the ability to grow marijuana at home. “Prop 19 would have a decidedly negative impact on our neighborhoods. The law would allow each person living at a residence to grow 25 square feet of pot. Grow houses would pop up all over the county and bring increased foot traffic along with them. Property values would go down,” the San Diego Union Tribune article said.
Dumanis claims “the ballot measure could prevent an employer from firing an employee who is under the influence of marijuana. Employees would be able to smoke marijuana during their work day. Employers may not be able to maintain a drug-free workplace, potentially violating the provisions of the Federal Drug Free Workplace Act and jeopardizing millions of dollars in federal funding.”
Proposition 19 may seem like a good idea by promising to save money through fewer prosecutions, but law enforcement in San Diego aren’t buying the claim and say possession of small amounts of marijuana now is already a minor offense punishable by a $100 fine and no time in jail.
“As prosecutors, we’re not spending a large amount of time or money on these cases because offenders typically just pay the fine,” Dumanis said. Also leading think tanks contend that for every one dollar collected in revenue, nine dollars is required to cover rehabilitation costs.
Opponents of the measure say drug cartels will not be driven out of business by this initiative. Legalizing marijuana will only make cartels richer and more violent as competition grows. Illegal drug dealers would be forced to sell to the only market left– kids under 21 years old.
Latin American leaders fail to see any positives with America legalizing marijuana. “It is confusing for our people to see that while we have lost lives and we invest vast resources in the drug war, in the consumer countries they promote proposals like the Californian referendum to legalize the production, the sale and the consumption of marijuana,” said Columbia President Juan Manual Santos.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon concurs. “They (the Americans) have a clear responsibility in this because they are providing the market for the drug dealers and the criminals.”
As for California’s lawmakers most are against the measure; including both candidates for Governor, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, Senator Diane Feinstein and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. Joining them is the California Chamber of Commerce, Crime Victims United, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Coalition for a Drug-Free America, Fight Crime Invest in Kids and the North Coastal Prevention.
On the flipside the folks who wrote the ballot imitative see things much differently. The following are some of the provisions contained in Proposition 19;
• Control cannabis like alcohol, allowing adults 21 and over in California to possess up to one ounce of cannabis, to be consumed at home or licensed establishments
• Give state and local governments the ability to tax the sale of cannabis for adult consumption
• Put our police priorities where they belong, by ending the arrests of non-violent cannabis consumers, saving hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars a year and enabling police to focus on violent crime
• Generate billions in annual revenue to fund what matters most in California: jobs, healthcare, public safety, parks, roads, transportation, and more
• Cut off funding to violent drug cartels across our border who currently generate 60 percent of their revenue from the illegal U.S. marijuana market
• Protect our kids, our roads, and our workplaces, by increasing the penalty for selling marijuana to minors, banning the smoking of marijuana in public, on school grounds, and while minors are present, maintaining strict criminal penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana, and preserving employers’ rights to maintain drug-free workplaces
• Protect medical cannabis patients’ rights
Political leaders on both ides of the political spectrum are monitoring the proposition to see if this proposition motivates younger voters to hit the polling booths. The possibility of legalizing pot even spurred the RAND Corporation to open an academic study titled: Reducing Drug Trafficking and Violence in Mexico – Would Legalizing Marijuana in California Help?
The authors concluded in their study; “Our best guess (this is the most important word in the RAND study) is that legalizing marijuana production in California would wipe out essentially all DTO (Drug Trafficking Organization) marijuana revenues from selling Mexican marijuana to California users; however, the share of Mexican marijuana in the United States that comes from Mexico to California is no more than one-seventh of all Mexican imports.”
According to a story from Reuters, the researchers found the drug cartels’ marijuana business in the United States could evaporate if high-quality marijuana from California was diverted from legal production and smuggled to the rest of the country. However that premises that California growers were willing to break the law and sell their product illegally to other dealers throughout America.
Looking to see what the underworld of drugs produces one only need to look to Mexico and see that over the past three-and-a half years in Mexico illegal drugs are responsible for nearly 30,000 murders. Scholars also admit that “it is unclear whether reductions in Mexican DTOs’ revenues would lead to corresponding decrease in violence…The effect of reducing DTO marijuana revenues on violence is a matter of conjecture.”
The topic of legalization has even sparked debate in Mexico where the drug cartels have ravaged its government and enemies alike in order to get their billion dollar industry products into the coveted United States market.
The General Director of the “El Mezon” Rehabilitation Center, Luis Serrano Quintero, said that if California legalizes marijuana on November 2nd, “Crime in Tijuana could be unleashed.”
Quintero said drug addicts could get “drugged up” in the United States and return to Tijuana to commit crimes. “We know for a fact that legalization of marijuana in California will adversely affect our communities in Tijuana and Baja California, and they need to consider that reforming their drug laws will affect us,” Quintero concluded.
Since San Diego shares a border with Tijuana, Mexico it has a lot at stake regarding illicit drugs, border violence, drug cartels and illegal immigration. If Proposition 19 finds favor with the voters, San Diegans will mostly likely see the effects of pot sales first. Keeping this in mind, the San Diego City Counsel unanimously signed a resolution to not endorse Proposition 19.
“It is encouraging to see San Diego’s elected leaders on both sides of the political spectrum stepping up to the plate to oppose California becoming a pothead culture and the nation’s drug dealer,” said Lee Lambert, Southern California field representative for MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com. “Marijuana legalization would bring in very little tax revenue, but would cost much more in teenage drug addictions, family problems, workplace accidents, and drugged driving DUIs.”
Either way you look at it Proposition 19 will stir debate about America’s drug use and hopefully draw attention to the country-wide instability created by drug cartels in Mexico.