Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yes on 19

Before I go any further, let me state up front that I don't do drugs. I don't like to put anything in my body that may screw it up, so I don't smoke, drink alcohol, or otherwise ingest anything that isn't food. I don't even like legal drugs. My experience with prescription drugs has been mostly unfavorable, and I prefer to avoid even over the counter medications. I'm as squeaky clean as they come.

So when I advocate the legalization of marijuana, it is not for personal gain, nor do I take the subject lightly. I support Proposition 19 because it is painfully obvious that our decades-old war on drugs is not working. It never was working.

Yes, old Mary Jane is a seductive temptress. She is not good for you. Though relatively harmless in small quantities, she has the ability to make you dependent, impair your judgment, ruin your relationships, and wreak all sorts of havoc when used to excess. Of course, the exact same things can be said of alcoholic beverages, so if we are to be consistent as a society our laws regarding these two substances should be the same.

We could make alcohol illegal, but we tried that and we all know what happened. Organized crime became rampant, and people kept drinking, just not openly. And that's exactly what the situation is with marijuana. So why on Earth would we want to prolong this failed policy?

As a measure to legalize marijuana,
Prop. 19 takes a restrained approach. It limits personal possession to less than one ounce, limits growing space on private property to 25 square feet (a 5'x5' square), prohibits use by or sale to persons under 21, prohibits any public use, use in the presence of minors, and possession on school grounds. These rules are still much stricter than the rules for alcohol.

And, contrary to popular arguments,
Prop. 19 keeps in place all existing restrictions relating to driving while impaired. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) opposes Prop. 19 because they believe otherwise. They're wrong. Prop. 19 specifically states "This act is not intended to affect the application or enforcement of the following state laws relating to public health and safety or protection of children and others:...Section 23152 of the vehicle code (related to driving while under the influence);...or any law prohibiting use of controlled substance in the workplace or by specific persons whose jobs involve public safety."

Just so we're clear, Section 23152 of the vehicle code states: "It is unlawful for any person who is under the influence of any alcoholic beverage or drug, or under the combined influence of any alcoholic beverage and drug, to drive a vehicle." This will not change under Prop. 19

A related argument against Prop. 19 is stated in the official California Voter Information Guide (page 17). It says "The California Police Chief's Association opposes Proposition 19 because proponents 'forgot' to include a standard for what constitutes 'driving under the influence.'" Well, guess what? There is no standard in existing California law, either. Prop. 19 maintains the status quo in that regard. Furthermore, there is nothing in Prop. 19 which prevents the legislature from enacting such a standard.

Finally, there's the pesky problem of federal law, which keeps marijuana illegal regardless of what we vote for in California. Prop. 19 will, however help save state taxpayers money by stopping the use of state law enforcement resources for a failed eradication effort. The money saved can be put to better use combating violent crime, such as the gang warfare in Salinas, which is largely the result of illegal drug trafficking - just as it was for alcohol during Prohibition.

I hold no illusions
that Prop. 19's proposal to allow taxation of marijuana sales will result in balanced budgets, nor do I expect that it will prevent marijuana abuse, as some of Prop. 19's supporters claim. But I do believe it will put a dent in organized crime, much as the repeal of Prohibition did, and that alone would be worth the price of admission. 

There is no question in my mind that marijuana laws need to be reformed. But to expect any action from Congress to change federal laws is a pipe dream. Congresscritters won't lift a finger to reform marijuana laws lest they be branded as "soft on crime." Reform of marijuana laws will have to start at - pardon the expression - the grassroots level. California can send a message loud and clear that we want something better than to continue with the failed policy of marijuana prohibition.


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