Proposition 19: Should It Have Passed? Pro/Con

Brian Friel

Proposition 19, California’s first legitimate attempt to legalize marijuana, would have allowed people 21 years old or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use. On Nov. 2 it was deafeated, as over 50% of voters voted no. Mirador weighs in on California’s controversial decision.

Pro

Proposition 19 presented California voters with a simple choice: Either continue a policy that has failed completely and can never work – or say yes to a common-sense approach that destroys a $14 billion black market and replaces it with a legal, controlled market that would have brought in what the California Board of Equalization estimates to be $1.4 billion in much needed revenue.

Disregarding any moral conflicts concerning marijuana use, the choice should have been clear. Prop. 19 would have allowed California to legally cultivate marijuana on its own fertile soil, producing a cheap, high quality product that would have drove gangs and drug cartels out of business.

The marijuana could have then been taxed, much like tobacco is, providing California with money that could have been used to improve education, public works projects, or even add additional drug education programs.

According to the California Legislative Analyst’s office, several tens of millions of dollars could have also been saved annually due to the reduction of individuals incarcerated, on probation, or on parole for marijuana related offenses. In 2008 alone,California police made an estimated 78,500 arrests related to marijuana. But with the passing of Prop. 19, crime rates would have plummeted, overcrowded jails would have been depopulated, and law enforcement agencies could have been able focus their attention on more pressing issues.

Furthermore, the over-consumption of marijuana has never been proven fatal, and Prop. 19 had the backing of former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

“What I think is horrible about all of this, is that we criminalize young people. And we use so many of our excellent resources … for things that aren’t really causing any problems,” said Elders in an interview with CNN. “It’s not a toxic substance.”

Opponents of Prop. 19 claimed that the number of marijuana abusers would have skyrocketed out of control. But according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States already has the third highest rate of marijuana use in the world, despite having some of the harshest penalties. It is a rate over twice that of The Netherlands, where retail marijuana sales have been allowed for decades.

Prop. 19 had the support of Joseph McNamara and Stephen Downing, the former police chiefs of San Jose and Los Angeles, respectively, as well as backing from Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – a 35,000-member group made up of police, prosecutors, judges, prison officials and others.

America learned during the 1920’s that the prohibition of alcohol could never work. Why have we not yet applied this same lesson to marijuana? It is clear that the current policy regarding marijuana can never work, for there are far too many people breaking the law and using marijuana for non-medical use. Prop. 19 would have been a large step in the right direction.

Con

Prop. 19 had too many loopholes and problems to be passed. If it simply allowed adults over 21 to carry an ounce of pot on them for personal use, it might have been a different story. But the other clauses of the proposition went much farther than that and raised many glaring problems.

Those who supported Prop. 19 claimed that the legalization of marijuana would have netted the state billions of dollars. This estimate was an extremely optimistic prediction. If Prop. 19 passed, the price of marijuana would have dropped about 80% from $300-$400 per ounce to $25-$50. Also, taxing was left up to each individual county, which could have imposed taxes as high or as low as it pleased. So exactly how much money the state would have earned in taxes was dependent on county and city tax rates.

Proponents claimed that Prop. 19 would have helped bring an end to a Mexican drug war that has claimed the lives of thousands. But a recent study by the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center showed that while Mexican cartels’ profits are estimated at $18-$35 billion, only $2 billion comes from marijuana and 3% of those sales are in California. This is largely because, California has been growing its own pot for years. Such a small dent in profits for Mexican drug cartels won’t put a stop to the violence.

While Prop. 19 would have allowed for persons over the age of 21 to smoke marijuana any time of the day, it also explicitly stated that smoking while driving, and driving while impaired, would still be illegal. But, Prop. 19 was powerless to stop people from smoking until the point they got behind the wheel. Following this logic, some people could have potentially justified driving while still under the influence of marijuana because Prop. 19 allowed for them to smoke legally.

The initiative would have further complicated the job of police officers, as roadside testing for marijuana is already difficult  compared to a simple breathalyzer test for alcohol consumption. Officers cannot arrest people unless they find physical evidence of marijuana use, and the only tests available are expensive, invasive urine and blood tests. This was a loophole that Prop. 19 failed to address, and it posed serious problems for law enforcement.

Another issue with Prop. 19 was that children would have had an even easier time getting their hands on marijuana. Sure, anyone over 21 could have had an ounce on them at anytime and they could have even grown pot in a 5×5-foot area in their own home. But this would have made getting pot much easier for minors. We should be making it harder for the state’s youth to obtain drugs, not easier.

Prop. 19 simply raised too many issues for it to be passed. The loopholes were glaring, and the initiative would not have been able to raise the hundreds of millions of dollars that it promised the state. When or if California legalizes marijuana, we should do it right, not settle for the first act that is thrown out there. Prop. 19 was a decent starting point, nothing more.