Prop 19

pot-leaf-tattoo Writing over at The Corner, Kevin Williamson points to the No on Proposition 19 campaign’s website, which has the following statement beneath the picture of a smashed up school bus:

On average, a drunk driver kills someone every 45 minutes. Recreational marijuana use in fatal crashes will increase if Prop. 19 passes. It will be legal for a driver to get high right before taking the wheel. It will also be legal for passengers to smoke pot as they drive on the freeway or in your neighborhood.

Williamson’s retort is characteristically blunt and to the point:

Bunk. If California lacks an intoxicated-driving law, then write one. Of course, California already has such a law, and the state attorney general affirms that Prop 19 would not change the prohibitions on driving while impaired. This is fear-mongering of the worst sort: “Oh, help! The stoned hippies are running over our children.”

California  has real problems, and these busybodies are worried about, in their own words,passengers in cars who may be high. Not drivers — passengers. The only dangers presented by a stoned passenger are associated with an unscheduled stop at Jack in the Box.

Williamson is, of course, quite correct. For some it might be a bit surprising that a prominent writer at the nation’s preeminent conservative magazine would opine in favor of Prop 19, but National Review has actually been pro-legalization for some time now (even William F. Buckley, the magazines long-time editor and founder, was against prohibition). And indeed, it’s interesting to see who has come out of the woodwork in support of Prop 19 and, even more interestingly, against the bill – which would legalize and regulate the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana in California.

I heard this story on NPR yesterday which takes note of some of the stranger opponents of the proposition:

De la Luz is a marijuana connoisseur for West Coast Cannabis and Skunk magazines, and TV’s Cannabis Planet. She has a monthly column called "Getting High with Dragonfly," in which she reviews the latest flavors of ganja.

"My favorite strain these days has to be Dr. Walker’s Daze," she says. "It’s a pretty epic mood elevator. You’re instantly happy, and you stay happy."

De la Luz says she was excited at first to hear California was trying to legalize pot. "I thought it was a dream come true," she says. "Then I read it and realized it was a nightmare."

She’s now actively campaigning with her group "Stoners Against Prop 19." She says the initiative would create too many restrictions: Californians would be able to legally possess, process, share or transport only one ounce of pot. And they would be able to grow it only in a 25-square-foot area. […]

"We’re kind of like anti-Wal-Mart and anti-McDonald’s," she says. "So for them to try to sneak in and turn cannabis into a corporation, that’s disgusting."

Or take pot-grower, Chris Wilson who worries that he’ll be taxed out of business:

Wilson says Proposition 19 would put him out of business. He wouldn’t be able to grow enough to supply himself , much less the collective. And he’d have to pay taxes and fees to operate.

"They’re going to tax the hell out of me," Wilson says. "And I barely make it as it is. I’m just getting by. They’re taxing everybody they can, just because California is in debt. They see the money can be made, like unbelievable taxation, enough to push me out of business."

And another grower who worries:

"Everyone’s really scared of the prices going down," he says. "We all have invested money here, we all live here. I have a daughter here, my wife’s a teacher. Everyone’s scared because we don’t know what the prices are going to be. Already, the prices have gone down and down. It’s harder to sell it."

The libertarianism on display by these stoners and marijuana growers is a bit on the hypocritical side. For one thing, keeping something illegal by consigning it to black (or gray) markets is not the same thing as keeping something free and unregulated. Real people go to jail over marijuana. Full legalization is far more free regardless of limits on the amount someone can possess. For all the talk of freedom and choice, illegal or semi-legal marijuana is not good for either.

The growers are even more revealing: cartels always worry about legalization because it will inevitably lead to higher supply, increased access, and lower prices. In other words: it’s good for consumers and bad for producers who can’t compete. So of course pot farmers worry about falling prices – so do dealers everywhere when rumblings of an end to marijuana prohibition begin.

The unlikely supporters of Prop 19?

Cops:

On the other side, Proposition 19 also has some unlikely allies; a group of former judges, prosecutors and cops are all for legalizing pot.

"No one in the history of marijuana use has ever died of an overdose from marijuana," says Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief of the LAPD.

Downing says marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. And he says arresting people for possessing marijuana is a waste of time for police; he says instead, they should be solving violent crimes and targeting those controlling the black market.

"Marijuana provides 95 percent of the cartels’ profits," says Downing, citing the hundreds of murders along the U.S.-Mexico border attributed to the drug cartels. "And they’re using the hundreds of thousands of gang members to bring about their distribution, their collections, their enforcement and their assassinations. We have a major, major violence problem, and if we take the cartels’ profits away, we’re going to start drying them up."

And moms:

Marijuana activist Dale Sky Jones, who is eight months pregnant, says her group is following the lead of mothers in the 1930s who helped end the ban on alcohol.

"Prohibition ended because of moms," Jones says. "They knew the true danger from prohibition: violence, profits, illegality. This is an opportunity to end a failed policy."

Jones says Proposition 19 would put marijuana sales "out of the hands of criminals and in the hands of those that will control cannabis away from children."

It’s high time we ended the prohibition of marijuana. After that we can have debates on legal possession limits, tax rates, and reasonable regulations. The only people benefiting from this fight now are the dealers, while police, parents, and society as a whole pays the price. If corporations benefit from legalization, well I’ll take that over drug cartels any day of the bloody week. Right now the Prop 19 battle in California is a dead heat, and I don’t think we’ll know for sure until November 3rd whether the first real effort at curbing the egregious War on Drugs will be a victory or a failure.

P.S. When I describe the growers/stoners above as ‘libertarian’ I mean it as a bit of tongue-in-cheek: they don’t want to be taxed or regulated, they want to be free and have choice. All those things are only true as it applies to them however. It’s not really libertarian at all, but merely an illusion.

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33 thoughts on “Prop 19

  1. National Review does indeed deserve, er, props on this, which is one of those issues it could have easily ignored in order to avoid offending a portion of its readership.

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    • @Barrett Brown,

      Good point. But I was always a little unsure whether things like marijuana legalization were “conservative” or “liberal” positions. Maybe this is a function of NR’s early support for legalization. But I could see Democrats shying away from it in order to shield itself from union votes, teachers, etc.

      For what it’s worth, the most prominent conservatives on my college campus were some of the most committed burners I have ever met. I mean… it was like Burning Man.

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  2. Crediting the opponents of legalization you quote as libertarian is a gross insult to libertarians. They are purely selfish with little apparent concern for anybody else.

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  3. Yep, good on NRO.
    I really do hope it passes. Beyond the social justice of the thing I just will be fascinated to see how the actual economic impact falls out. I’ve never watched a black/grey market turn white before.

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  4. On my recent trip, I wound up randomly eating lunch with a couple of LAPD officers (I believe they were part of the gang unit). Out of politeness, I kept most of my thoughts on civil liberties issues to myself. But one thing that stuck out to me was that the only group they held in as much contempt as defense attorneys was prosecutors. Why? Because the prosecutors were more interested in “locking up dopers” (as they put it) than in throwing the book at violent criminals or coming down hard on weapons charges. I got a very real sense that they felt the War on Drugs was undermining their ability to get and keep violent criminals off the street.

    [Usual caveats about the plural of anecdote not being data].

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  5. There’s definitely going to be some harm to their profits but I wonder how much? Ho wmany people are going to bother to start growing when they can have someone else do it better for them? There will be some level-setting of the cost with increased demand but I suspect everyone will do fine.

    Looking forward to seeing how Uncle Sam reacts to a win on Prop 19.

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    • @Mike at The Big Stick, I imagine it would harm their profits quite a bit Mike if someone at Phillip Morris throws a switch and the weed starts rolling off a conveyor belt. I’ve read and heard in several different places that whereas tobacco farming is rather demanding with the tobacco plant being finicky a marijuana plant on the other hand is essentially a furiously hardy and fast growing weed. I imagine a corporation could sell pot for a lot less than cigarettes and still make a nice profit.

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  6. A question for you, could this proposition actually protect people from going to jail for posession? I’m under the impression that in states where marijuana is legal for medical use under state law people are still arrested for breaking federal drug laws. Would legalising recreational use be treated differently and if not do you have any suggestions for dealing with the obvious problem?

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    • @Matty, Yes, the federal government can still prosecute. But this has been going on a long time with regards to medical marijuana. At some point, the fed. gov. is going to have to get on board, or simply ignore reality. The Calif. election manual I have in front of me comments, “It is not known to what extent the federal government would continue to enforce [anti-marijuana laws].

      “Californians would be able to legally possess, process, share or transport only one ounce of pot. And they would be able to grow it only in a 25-square-foot area.”

      Except that doesn’t apply to commercial establishments. If you want to argue that the amount you can grow and possess is limited, then you can’t argue that this law will result in large tobacco companies taking over the business. I think the small growers will be able to survive by producing strains of higher quality weed, but it will certainly get interesting.

      If 19 passes. Latest poll I saw had it trailing by eight points.

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  7. Also should add, the law specifically forbids the transport of California grown marijuana to another state. However, it does not forbid transport from one locality to another within the state, even if the locality targeted does not pass a law permitting commercial production of marijuana (these businesses are all determined on the local level).

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  8. I think everyone here is familiar with the reasons for passing 19, but as someone who supports it (and just voted for it), let me quote some of the opponents’ arguments:

    Mothers Against Drunk Driving strongly oppose Proposition 19 because it will prevent bus and trucking companies from requiring their drivers to be drug free…” (so they should oppose legalization of alcohol for the same reason?)

    “The California Chamber of Commerce found that ‘if passed, this initiative could result in employers losing public contracts and grants because they could no longer effectively enforce the drug-free workplace requirements outlined by the federal government.”

    “Under current law, if a worker shows up smelling of alcohol or marijuana, the employer may remove the employee from a dangerous or sensitive job…But if Proposition 19 passes, the worker with marijuana in his or her system may not be removed from the job until after an accident occurs.”

    There are some big names in California against this Proposition including free spirit Jerry Brown, of all people, Senator Feinstein, and the California Police Chiefs Association.

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    • @Andy Smith, The MADD opposition on that basis is patently absurd since there’s no reason, on safety grounds, to be concerned about whether a driver uses pot or other drugs in his spare time, provided of course that he’s not actually stoned, high, or drunk while performing his job.

      The second paragraph of the CoC opposition you printed is even more absurd, since the law has no provision that could possibly be construed in that manner.

      However, the first paragraph of the CoC objection has some real merit given that the proposed law would prohibit “discrimination” against employees who use pot in accordance with the new law, and limits this prohibition only to the extent an employee’s job performance is “actually impaired.” So a business would likely not be able to have a policy that complied with both the non-discrimination policy in Prop 19 and federal drug-free workplace requirements for contracting.

      I really have to wonder why in the world they included that non-discrimination provision in the proposed law. That is truly idiotic.

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      • @Mark Thompson,

        That’s a good question. Normally I’d probably hit Volokh C for some analysis on that, but the atmosphere over there is too much for my blood pressure these days.

        IANAL, and hopefully we have some here who can comment, but in the unlikely event that 19 passes, would there be some basis on which a company could use the contracting provisions to beat the anti-discrimination clause? For that matter, is there a, well, Federal case to be made that the particular section should be struck down under impairment to contract? Interesting federalism questions there.

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  9. The California legal machine–cops, courts, counselors, prison employees, so forth–depends upon a steady stream of schmucks convicted of DrugCrime entering the system, even the petty pot smoker type. The Democratic mob bosses–Brown, Boxer, Feinstein, etc– know this, and since they work for the bureaucrats (including the cops), they oppose 19 , regardless of a few pro-pot democrats in the ranks, most of whom were told to STFU about 19.

    That said, the pro-19 conservatives are mostly just doing it for media impact, or some obscure reason. The major CA-GOP hacks like e-Meg and Fiorina oppose it. It looks like it will probably fail anyway–say grazi to the so-called liberals (including the unions and schoolmarmies) who did nothing to support a fairly reasonable, Jeffersonian policy.

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    • @James Hanley, “All generalizations are incorrect, including this one”- Mark Twain
      That being said, I doubt a mayority of underground growers with a funcional and comprehensive knowledge of growing their pot are actually that deep into applying genetics and breeding techniques. Still there must be exceptions, and that minority however small it may be, must be having breakthroughs in leaps and bounds. It would all depend on how commited these people are.

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  10. How will Prop 19 affect you?

    • Are you age 18-20? You will not be allowed to consume cannabis legally under Prop 19. Currently, all you need is a medical recommendation to do so.

    • Do you interact with anyone under age of 21? You will be looking at up to 6 months in jail for passing them a joint. (If the person is under 18 you will be looking at up to 7 years in prison.)

    • Do you live in the same “space” and a minor? (Space could mean anything from the same house to an entire apartment complex.) You will not be allowed to consume cannabis.

    • Do you rent your home? Prop 19 will only allow you to grow cannabis if you have permission from your landlord. Due to the risks involved, many (if not most) California landlords do not allow it. How is this legalization?

    • Do you grow cannabis with a doctor recommendation? Prop 19 will likely be interpreted by law enforcement and judges to limit your grow space to 5?x5?.

    • Do you provide your extra medical cannabis to dispensaries? It will be a crime to do so if Prop 19 passes. In addition, large Oakland growers and tobacco companies will take control of the market and push you out.

    • Do you currently have to use your medical cannabis anywhere but home? Prop 19 will prevent patients from using their medicine anywhere in pubic. Which for many people with illnesses is not always possible.

    • Do you sell your extra medical cannabis to other medical patients? Prop 19 will make this practice illegal. Even if you are only selling it to cover your growing cost.

    • Do you currently enjoy the use of cannabis free from Government interference? Not only will the Government impose excessive taxes under Prop 19, but the federal government will likely respond with unprecedented action against California cannabis users. “The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes.”

    sad that such a large amount of supporters of prop 19 will be voting to degrade the quality of weed and make it illegal for any person under 21 (even with medical cards) to use. handing over the industry to big tobacco, and create new felonies. VOTE NO PROP 19

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