Point-Counterpoint: California’s Proposition 19

In Support of Prop 19

By Natalie Sanchez, PPN

California voters face a number of decisions in the upcoming general election. Of special interest nationwide is Proposition 19, which, according to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), would allow individuals age 21 or older to possess and cultivate limited amounts of marijuana for personal use.

The LAO further states that under Proposition 19, state and local governments could authorize, regulate, and tax commercial marijuana-related activities under specific conditions. The amount of revenue created by Proposition 19 would depend on the way local governments decide to tax marijuana, though the LAO predicts that the number could be in the hundreds of millions in the long run.

The substantial uncertainty regarding increases in revenue is offset by the fact that the current costs of marijuana prohibition are exorbitantly high. The judicial system spends hundreds of millions of dollars on nonviolent marijuana-related offenses, while thousands of Mexican civilians die at the hands of drug cartels. California needs to focus on more pressing issues like reducing violent crime, rather than on enforcement of relatively minor marijuana offenses. Proposition 19 is part of the solution to these problems. Like alcohol and cigarettes, marijuana can be effectively regulated. Voting yes on Proposition 19 is a step in the right direction for California.

A yes vote means increased regulation of all marijuana-related activities, millions in potential revenue, and a positive realignment of California’s law enforcement priorities. Proposition 19 gives local governments the power to control marijuana in a common-sense way while maintaining strict penalties for driving under the influence and increasing existing penalties for providing marijuana to minors.

Images of ballooning drug usage, high truck drivers, a state in disarray, and a nightmarish California-federal government faceoff muddied the medical marijuana debate in 1996. Fourteen years later, the Golden State remains standing.

Once again, the opposition’s warnings about the proposition’s effects on highways, workplaces, and community are exaggerated and misguided. Opponents of Proposition 19 maintain, “the authors made several huge mistakes in writing this initiative which will have severe, unintended circumstances.”  They claim that the proposition does not set a clear standard for what constitutes driving under the influence of marijuana, that workplaces will not be able to enforce their current drug policies, and that relations between California and the federal government will be strained.

An honest analysis of Proposition 19 recognizes that these ambiguities exist. For example, federal law will remain unchanged no matter how California votes. In fact, federal law and state law will be in conflict if Proposition 19 passes. However, supporters understand that with time, the courts, law enforcement, government agencies, local governments, and the people of California will effectively work through these issues. Proposition 19 is part of the evolutionary process toward a sensible drug policy for California and possibly for other states; it sets a reliable framework with just enough flexibility and gaps to let California’s many institutions work their magic.

Millions in taxpayer money, deaths across the border, wasted resources, and thousands of nonviolent users behind bars are all that marijuana prohibition has to show for itself. No decrease in drug usage has resulted and help for users is still inadequate.

Proposition 19 gives Californians options and control; it is worthy of significant consideration and, ultimately, a yes vote.

“Marijuana Mayhem: Prop 19 is a High Priority in California”

By Chris Goodnow, Tory

“California will not see a single positive result if Proposition 19 passes. It is a poorly constructed initiative that will cause harm to Californians on our roadways, and in our schools, workplaces and communities,” decried the stingy, middle-aged conservative, desperately clinging to his guns and religion whilst pick-pocketing a San Francisco street musician for a donation to Meg Whitman’s gubernatorial campaign. Alright, that may be a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, it is an outright falsification. For while the quote itself is directly from the mouth of one of California’s most prominent politicians, you would be hard-pressed to describe her as a conservative on any front, especially the stereotypical robber baron described above. In actuality, this quote comes from none other than one of California’s Democratic senators,  Dianne Feinstein, who is so strongly opposed to this proposition that she co-chairs the “No on Prop 19” Committee that seeks to thwart this misguided and poorly-conceived initiative. And as of late the opposition seems to be winning, with the latest Reuters poll projecting a 10-point margin favoring the opposition of the legalization of marijuana in the state of California, the main aim of Proposition 19.

Furthermore, all Democratic and Republican candidates in the gubernatorial, senatorial, and attorney general races in California are united in their opposition to Proposition 19, creating an unprecedented bipartisan coalition against the initiative. Even the unashamedly progressive mayor of San Francisco is in opposition to statewide legalization of marijuana, thus raising a logical and probing question: Who the heck supports this thing?   Well, Richard Lee does, the medical marijuana magnate who has been the spokesperson-in-chief of this initiative and an active lobbyist for marijuana rights since the early 90’s. He is also the founder of “Oaksterdam University”, a prestigious institute in Oakland, California that stresses a cannabis-based education, such as studies in the cultivation, production, and sale of marijuana. Such logical, non-polarizing and mainstream origins must be acknowledged in order to fully understand the goals of Proposition 19.

Now, the rhetoric of Proposition 19, while problematically ambiguous, essentially wishes to legalize the use and cultivation of marijuana for all people 21 years of age or older. The initiative has provisions that allow for the use of up to one ounce of marijuana and 25 square feet worth of property per inhabitant of a “residence” to be used for one’s own personal pot farm. Unfortunately, since the word “residence” is cunningly defined as “a dwelling or structure, whether permanent or temporary, on private or public property, intended for occupation by a person or persons for residential purposes”, the California District Attorney’s Association has reported that there is no legal standing under this initiative to ban a marijuana vendor from pitching his own tent in the middle of a park, calling it his “residence”, and therefore using it to cultivate and distribute cannabis. However, there are prohibitions against smoking marijuana in public, on school grounds, or when minors are “present”. Since the word “present” is conveniently left undefined, another example of one of the many ambiguities in the proposition’s rhetoric, it is unsure whether a child must be ten feet away, within a mile radius, or be revived in a séance to be considered “present”, and therefore qualify someone as violating the initiative.

Beyond this rhetorical incongruence, which merely points to a poorly written and ill-conceived initiative that could be twisted to promote a pro-cannabis agenda that not even most supporters would condone, Proposition 19’s supposed economic benefits are far overstated and quite frankly imaginary. Proponents have assured voters that legalizing marijuana would save “hundreds of millions of dollars a year” in decreased legal and penal fees that used to be allocated for the conviction and incarceration of marijuana users, a number that shrinks and eventually disappears under close analysis. According to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the prison population was 0.9% marijuana-law violators at the end of 2009, a number that would be realistically lower given the many defendants who reach plea bargains to gain this charge in lieu of a greater misdemeanor or felony. At an annual cost of $52,363 per inmate, the total price tag to incarcerate this population amounts to approximately $85.8 million annually, a number that is certainly considerable, but far less than what proponents have asserted. However, given the ambiguous composition of Proposition 19 and its controversial provisions, it is very likely that the ensuing litigation necessary to interpret the initiative, let alone oppose it, would accrue a bill far greater than the cost of incarcerating violators of the current law.

In addition, supporters propose that legalizing cannabis would provide a taxable commodity that could generate revenue for schools and government programs, an amicable, selfless public service at the hands of the recreational drug users. Unfortunately, the logistics and likelihood of obtaining a substantial amount of revenue from the taxation of marijuana is unlikely, due to vague clauses in the proposition that allow for local and county governments to self-determine their own methods of taxation and revenue allocation without any direction as to how this is to be done. Therefore, as tax rates and regulations would vary from county to county, money would flow inefficiently and inconsistently, with no guarantees of it actually being used to pay for schools or other mutually beneficent programs. In addition, there is one minor technicality that Proposition 19 has failed to overcome: marijuana usage and cultivation is illegal under federal law, putting it in direct violation of the supremacy clause in something called the Constitution, which I hear is a pretty important document. However, beyond the constitutional legality of the situation, the legalization of marijuana in California would put the state in direct violation of the Federal Workplace Act of 1988, jeopardizing up to $9.4 billion dollars in federal funds that are a cornerstone to the California state budget. In a state that is a celebrity in the field of being absolutely inept at managing, or for that matter even coming up with, a budget, it would be inexcusable for California to forfeit these funds.

Finally, beyond the obvious economic and legal implications that this once seemingly innocent bill entails, there are undeniable, yet to proponents unforeseeable, social ills that would undoubtedly ensue. For example, as written, Proposition 19 provides no provision for employers to keep employees who are high from working until an accident has already occurred. In the heavy machinery field, the damages could be stunning if operators under the influence of marijuana were severely inhibited, yet their employers could do nothing to stop them. The same logic spreads to other professions, such as school bus drivers, who through their inhibition would endanger the lives of others. Unfortunately, while the initiative does explicitly state that current standards to gauge inhibition, such as Blood Alcohol Content, would remain intact, there is currently no standard, nor is their one proposed in the proposition, to gauge when a person is too inhibited by the use of marijuana to drive or perform other tasks. Even if marijuana were to be found in one’s bloodstream, there would be no quantifiable standard to prove whether he was “driving under the influence”, thus allowing for major legal gaps that could condone driving recklessly under the influence of marijuana.

In conclusion, marijuana is evil. Actually, that is not the point of this argument, nor should it be misconstrued to be interpreted as such. The legalization of marijuana, as proposed by Proposition 19, is nothing more than an ill-conceived attempt to satiate the desires of a cannabis fanatic who has been hopelessly pursuing his own radical agenda for decades. The legal, economic, and social implications of legalizing marijuana as Proposition 19 suggests would be staggering, endangering the lives of many while producing no economic benefit and entangling California in millions of dollars of worthless litigation. California voters, most of whom do not use marijuana anyways, should critically analyze this initiative and oppose it sternly, making sure to not be caught up in the rebellious cultural trend that asserts that by the virtue of something being different and socially unacceptable to the status quo, it should be actively pursued. The costs of this unwarranted and unfounded social revolution would simply be too great.

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