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Proposition 19 - Yes, Yes!
We are among those who see it as a beginning, however imperfect, however risky, of a long overdue correction of years of unjust prohibition of a drug far less harmful than alcohol or nicotine, the illegality of which has ruined the lives of countless otherwise law-abiding Californians.
Legalizes MarijuanaThis proposition is very explicit in stating how marijuana will be legalized for personal use, cultivation and purchase, less explicit in stating how it will be legalized for commercial production, taxation, and purchase by wholesalers and retailers.
Because it is short on details, complex in its enactment, and uncertain in application, some politicians, law enforcement officers, and religious leaders in Alameda County, who might share progressive values, oppose this proposition. We are among those who see it as a beginning, however imperfect, however risky, of a long overdue correction of years of unjust prohibition of a drug far less harmful than alcohol or nicotine, the illegality of which has ruined the lives of countless otherwise law-abiding Californians.
Particularly pernicious are the present California laws, which appear to minimize the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana, while arrest rates for possession continue to increase. More than 60,000 arrests in 2008 are triple the number in 1990. The criminal conviction that seems like a traffic ticket is in reality far more serious. In our time of computerization, it creates an easily retrievable permanent record that precludes the convicted from obtaining financial aid for education, bank loans, housing, or employment. This especially impacts the African-American community, as the arrest rate for young black men for small amounts of marijuana is three times the rate for young whites in many of California’s largest counties. Presently, blacks make up 7 percent of the state population, yet comprise 750 of 1,515 people in California prisons for marijuana charges. Government studies consistently find lower rates of marijuana use among blacks than whites.
Proposition 19 allows possession of one ounce and cultivation of 25 square feet for personal use. It legalizes use only for adults over 21 and has several articles protecting minors. It limits public consumption to licensed facilities.
The proposition allows each city or county to decide whether to license or prohibit cultivation, sales, and public consumption for adults, at what rate to tax sales, charge licensing fees, and how to punish and prohibit infractions of its rules. Limits on permitted commercial production, as opposed to personal production, are not specified, and only limited by local ordinance. Though sales to individual customers are limited to one ounce per transaction, there are no limits on frequency of transactions, or on sales to retailers or distributors. This proposition does not encourage either existing or new small growers, and we have concern that big businesses can take control of the marijuana industry, pushing out small farmers, as has agribusiness in so many other industries.
Prop 19 explicitly permits state government to pass legislation regarding cultivation and sales. Given the complexities that city and county ordinances will doubtless create, state legislation of some sort is likely to follow passage.
Opponents of Prop 19 have stated in their ballot opposition argument that Prop 19 does not provide “the Highway Patrol with any tests or objective standards for determining what constitutes ‘driving under the influence.’” However, the same argument could be applied to driving under the influence of any legal drug that can impair driver safety. Further legislation could specify tests to be used, and cannabinoid product levels deemed unsafe. This would clarify standards for bus, truck drivers and school bus drivers, a concern of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Opponents have also stated in their argument that workplaces could not opt to be drug-free. However, the proposition explicitly states that the “existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected,” and it would seem that the same rights that now allow places of work to not permit alcohol or apparent inebriation on premises would allow prohibition of marijuana or stoned behavior, which could be validated by drug testing. Drug testing revealing past use of marijuana irrelevant to the user’s state of mind in the workplace might be prohibited, and we see this as a good thing. Issues of federal contracts requiring different standards of drug-free workplaces may create difficulties, as will other conflicts with federal law. Whether mandated by state, county or city law, it is also difficult to determine the financial benefits that will accrue from the taxation of marijuana, as there are many variables to be considered. Estimates made by several studies have varied enormously. But despite these many unknowns, we welcome the passage of Prop 19 as bringing progress toward appropriate marijuana legislation in California.