(Photo: eggrole / Flickr)
California’s Prop 19 will be the most talked-about ballot initiative in the November election. This measure would make lawful the possession and sharing of one ounce of marijuana outside the home and allow for personal cultivation of a small marijuana garden and possession of its harvest in the home. California cities and counties would be able to opt-in to commercial sales, regulation, and taxation of marijuana. Existing prohibitions against driving under the influence and working under the influence would be maintained and prohibitions against furnishing marijuana to minors would be strengthened.
After almost 100 years of marijuana prohibition in California, marijuana is more popular and accepted than ever. Prohibition has clearly failed. Prop 19 gives us another choice, one that benefits not just those who enjoy the herb, but the entire state of California and ultimately, the nation and the world. Whether you are a regular marijuana user now, an occasional toker back in the day, or you’ve never touched the stuff, there are many compelling economic, social, public safety, and civil libertarian reasons to support its legalization. Here are nineteen reasons for six distinct groups of Californians to vote Yes on Prop 19:
For the Concerned Parents
1. To make pot more difficult for kids to buy. It might seem counter-intuitive to some, but illegal marijuana is much easier to acquire than regulated marijuana because weed dealers don’t check ID’s. Four out of five high school seniors, more than three in five sophomores, and two in five middle schoolers (8th grade) say marijuana is “fairly easy” or “very easy” to get. One third of 16-17-year-olds say marijuana is easiest to buy, not cigarettes, alcohol, or prescription drugs. Two out of five teens say they can get marijuana in a day; almost one in four can get marijuana in an hour. Obviously letting unregulated dealers control the marijuana market is not protecting your kids from access to marijuana. On the other hand, aggressive enforcement of ID carding for minors, combined with public education have led to some of the lowest rates of teen alcohol and tobacco use ever recorded. Prop 19 enacts the same common sense ID carding for marijuana as we use for martinis and Marlboros.
2. To make pot more difficult for kids to sell in school. Regardless of what regulations we put on marijuana, like alcohol and tobacco, there will be some kids who manage to get a hold of it. But part of what makes marijuana so easy for teens to buy is that they can all find in their high school one of the one million teens nationally who are dealing it. Legal access to marijuana for adults removes the criminal risk markup that makes pot so profitable. After all, when was the last time you heard of a beer dealer in a high school hallway? Prop 19 eliminates the huge profit that entices youngsters to sell marijuana.
3. To make pot less available for transfer from young adults. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a decriminalization bill that makes it an infraction, not a crime, to possess and share of up to one ounce of marijuana between anyone 18 and older. Prop 19 adds a stiff punishment of up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine for any adult aged 21 or older who shares marijuana with anyone aged 18-20, just like we punish adults who furnish alcohol to those under legal age. When it’s tougher for those 18-20 to get marijuana, it’s tougher for them to share it friends under 18. Prop 19 treats marijuana like alcohol as a privilege for age 21 and older.
For the Law and Order Crowd
4. To decrease the profits of violent criminals. Prohibited marijuana brings with it the same problems as prohibited alcohol did – gangs and violence. We don’t see bootleggers shooting up the streets over whiskey distribution any more. We don’t see clandestine wine grape vineyards sprouting up in national forests. Providing California’s adults a legal way to grow or buy their own marijuana means violent drug gangs lose customers. No, these gangsters won’t stop being gangsters, but they will become gangsters with lower budgets and fewer associates. Prop 19 brings the dangerous underground marijuana market into a safe, regulated, inspected, and taxed legal market.
5. To increase public trust of law enforcement. Currently more than 1 in 10 adult Californians smoke pot every year. It is unknown how many of these 2.9 million annual users fail to report crimes for fear of police interviewing them and discovering the marijuana they possess or grow. Prohibition also creates fear and paranoia that lingers long after the joint is smoked for these adults whenever they see police, fear that even talking to police could end in a ticket or arrest. Prop 19 allows otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers to trust and help law enforcement.
6. To prioritize our law enforcement. It is estimated that including the arrest, jail, prison, court, and marijuana eradication costs, California spends $200 million per year on marijuana law enforcement. Then there is the time and space we can’t afford in our overworked court system and overcrowded prisons. Prop 19 alleviates much of those problems while maintaining the current laws against irresponsible use of marijuana, such as driving under the influence and giving marijuana to kids. Prop 19 focuses police priorities away from adults who enjoy marijuana responsibly and onto real crime.
For the Medical Marijuana Patients
7. To protect your medical collectives. Over the fourteen years of medical marijuana in California we’ve seen numerous raids on medical marijuana collectives, or “dispensaries”. Many are conducted by state or local authorities, some by DEA but always with the cooperation and assistance of local law enforcement. Prop 19 forbids state and local law enforcement from seizing, attempting to seize, or even threatening to seize lawfully cultivated marijuana – medical or personal. Prop 19 makes it impossible for local law enforcement to assist federal prosecution of medical marijuana collectives.
8. To provide easier access to cheaper medicine. Currently a patient has to see a doctor and pay for a recommendation to use medical marijuana. The patient has to carry around that recommendation to prove medical use to the police. The patient can designate a caregiver to grow for them or buy from a dispensary at grossly inflated prices. After Prop 19, you can use marijuana simply because you decide to, no doctors, no notes. Any number of your friends could be growing marijuana for you. There may even be Prop 19 stores that open in your city. Prop 19 will lower marijuana prices and provide greater access to patients without need for permission slips.
9. To allow you to grow a lot of marijuana. For adults who decide not to get Prop 215 recommendations, you will be allowed under Prop 19 to cultivate a plot of marijuana not exceeding 25 square feet. The DEA has concluded that the average yield of cannabis bud per square foot is about one-half ounce – that’s over three quarters of a pound from a 5’x5’ garden. Prop 19 allows you to keep the results of your harvests; the one ounce limitation only applies to taking your marijuana out of your residence. Prop 19 does not impose arbitrary plant and possession limits at your home grow site.
For the Business Community
10. To create much-needed jobs. California’s marijuana market is already the largest cash crop in the state at an estimated $14 billion annually. This estimate only includes the marijuana itself and not all the ancillary industries a legal pot market would bring, from accessories to fashion, from tourism to retail, and all the incredible markets for marijuana’s non-drug cousin, industrial hemp. Prop 19 creates new job and business opportunities and opens the door for industrial use of hemp.
11. To bring in much-needed tax revenue. It’s true that Prop 19 allows localities to opt-in and regulate commercial cannabis sales and some places may not opt-in, reaping no marijuana taxes. But marijuana for personal use will still be legal and many of the ancillary industries could flourish in a “dry county” (e.g., marijuana bed’n’breakfast) and that would produce tax revenue. Prop 19 brings in more tax revenue from marijuana than we’re bringing in now.
12. To bring fairness to workplace drug testing. Prop 19 maintains an employer’s existing right to address marijuana impairment in the workplace – nobody gets to go to work stoned any more than they get to go to work drunk. But Prop 19 frees employers from the burden of disciplining, firing, or not hiring safe, productive workers for their personal use of marijuana away from the job site. Prop 19 treats employees who use cannabis responsibly in their private life like those employees who drink alcohol.
For the Latinos and African-Americans
13. To end the disproportionate arrest and harassment of people of color. African-Americans in California’s 25 largest counties are arrested at rates two-to-four times greater than their white counterparts, despite whites using marijuana at greater rates. In the 25 largest cities, the arrest disparity ranges from twice-to-thirteen times the rates for whites. Arrest rates for Latinos also exceed the rates for whites. Prop 19 removes the probable cause for law enforcement to harass people of color for merely possessing marijuana.
14. To end street-level dealing of marijuana. Marijuana’s profitability and scarcity create the open-air street-corner dealing that plagues many communities of color and utilizes juveniles to perform the transporting and selling of small amounts of pot. The profit enriches gangs and leads to violent confrontations over turf. Prop 19 will reduce the cost of marijuana and provide a regulated place to buy it that will undercut the street dealers.
15. To strike back at the murderous drug gangs in Mexico. Many Latino Californians worry for the safety of friends and family back in Mexico. Residents in northern border towns face violence and murder rates usually only found in war zones. Law abiding Mexicans don’t know if their law enforcement and government officials are corrupted by the wealthy gangs. Prop 19 is the first step in nationwide legalization that can be the only solution to Mexico’s drug war violence.
For the People of All Political Ideologies
16. To energize and connect with the progressive Democratic base. Prop 19 is overwhelmingly supported by the young, progressive, liberal voters that are the base of support for Democratic politicians. Many of these voters are not as enthusiastic about the Democrats as they were in 2008 when they turned out in record numbers. Prop 19’s passage forces the Democratic Party to recognize the get-out-the-vote potential of the marijuana legalization issue for future elections.
17. To build a new, younger Republican base on conservative principles. The Republican Party faces a decline in its numbers due to the aging of its core base of white male supporters. Younger, libertarian-leaning, “Tea Party” activists are calling for a return to conservative principles of states’ rights, less government, personal responsibility, and cutting wasteful government spending. Prop 19 affirms the right of states to set their own policies and begins to dismantle the most ineffective government program of all time – the War on Drugs.
18. To show the traditional political parties they aren’t responding to the people. Candidates for the highest offices in California from both major political parties refuse to endorse marijuana legalization even though more than half the citizens have used marijuana and support its legalization. Prop 19 reminds the major parties that they are the servants of the people and the people’s will is sovereign.
For the Future
19. To change the world. Prop 19 is not just another California initiative. Prop 19 is being watched in all fifty states and throughout the hemisphere as the “shot heard round the world” in ending the prohibition of marijuana.
It’s up to you, California, to take that one small step for your state that will be one giant leap for the nation. Vote Yes on Prop 19!
Russ Belville is NORML's Outreach Coordinator.