By Mary Paulet
October 31, 2010 (San Diego’s East County) – Advocates believe passage of Proposition 19 would generate millions in tax revenues for our cash-strapped state by legalizing marijuana. Opponents point to a threatened federal lawsuit which could cost the state money to defend, also voicing safety concerns. With such high stakes, Prop 19 is worthy of close scrutiny by voters.
Proposition 19 is a statewide initiative that would repeal California state laws banning the “possession, cultivation, and transportation” of marijuana for “personal use”, according to the California online Official Voter Information Guide. Individuals could possess up to one ounce for recreational use. The measure would also allow local governments to “regulate and tax” pot’s distribution, sale, and commercial production.
Current federal drug laws remain in force, however, Eric Holder, the U.S. Attorney General, has warned that the federal agents "vigorously enforce" anti-marijuana laws, according to the Huffington Post. Thus Californians using or growing marijuana, even if legalized here, could risk federal enforcement action. Holder has also indicated that a potential federal lawsuit to block enactment of Prop 19 may be considered.
Not all marijuana prohibitions would be lifted if the proposition is successful. The statutes pertaining to marijuana in regards to those under 21 would not change. Driving while “impaired” from pot would also still be illegal. Job performance that is impaired by pot would remain subject to employer scrutiny.
The state Board of Equalization has estimated that Prop 19 could generate $1.4 billion annually in revenues which could be utilized to help balance the budget and fund programs such as schools, parks or public safety services. The state currently faces about a $20 billion deficit.
Advocates argue that marijuana prohibitions clog up courts and jails with minor offenders. According to the fiscal analysis provided on the Official Voter Guide, possible cost reductions resulting from decriminalization in marijuana related activities could total in the tens of millions of dollars. In addition, sate officials predict potential tax revenue in the eventual hundreds of millions dollar range. Increasing costs of marijuana related drug treatment are forecasted to increase as well.
Those in favor of Proposition 19 include a myriad of individuals and associations including the NAACP, the National Black Police Officers Association, National Latino Officers Association, various law enforcement officers and retired officers, elected officials, and Sting, the well-known pop singer. Billionaire George Soros has donated $3 million to the Yes on 19 campaign, stating that Soros said that the nation’s marijuana laws "are clearly doing more harm than good" at a cost of billions of dollars a year "to enforce this unenforceable prohibition."
The Yes on Proposition 19 campaign reasons for enactment include potential weakening of the drug cartels, refocusing police efforts on violent criminal acts, and the increased revenue that this proposition would generate, since cities and counties would be allowed to cultivate and sell marijuana for recreational as well as medical use.
More than 30 cities and counties have taken stances against Prop 19, including the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. So have over two dozen newspapers and San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore. Major politicians, both current and aspiring, have voiced opposition. Both major party candidates for Governor, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman oppose Prop 19. In addition, the Senatorial candidates of both major parties, Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer stand in opposition to it. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the current California Governor and Senator Diane Feinstein also are opposed. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has voiced opposition to the measure.
The measure was introduced by a doctor in a medical marijuana practice. However, the California Cannibis Association, a statewide advocacy group for medical marijuana, which is already legal in California, opposes Prop 19 due to concerns regarding the protection of medical marijuana patients. See www.keepcannabismedical.org.
Other concerns raised by opponents include risks to public safety including potential ability for drivers to legally operate a motor vehicle with pot in their systems. The No on Proposition 19 website states that it “would place hundreds of employers, including public schools, at risk of violating the Federal Workplace Act of 1988 which mandates the necessity of a drug-free workplace, causing California as much as $9.4 billion.” The No on 19 campaign also raises concern over marijuana–related advertising near schools.