Whatever Happened to Mary Jane? All Quiet on California’s Proposition 19

Map outline of California with a marijuana leaf.

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On November 2, 2010, voters in the state of California will decide on Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act. The rest of the world is no doubt looking in towards California at this point to see exactly what happens – although, of course, it isn't the first time. A similar proposal in 1972 (coincidentally also called Proposition 19) was substantially defeated, because it asked for no restrictions whatsoever; the 2010 proposition is somewhat more complicated. It is probably very easy at this point for non-Californians to assume the airwaves are loaded with vehement debate about the proposition, both sides trading political blows, surrounded in a cloud of purple haze, but the reality is perhaps more disappointing for external observers. Things are, in fact, almost silent.

Proposition 19 goes to some extent to legalize some activities related to the consumption and production of marijuana. It allows individuals to possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use; to use it in private or in a licensed public establishment; and to grow it (for personal use) in a space not exceeding 25 square feet. Meanwhile, local government at the city or county level can impose taxes on these activities, such as through retail sale, transportation, or licensing, and, although the proposition does legalize some use, it still maintains existing restrictions regarding exposure of the drug to minors, keeps some activities unlawful such as driving under the influence, and an employer's right to address issues related to employee performance due to consumption in much the same way as alcohol. Existing legislation, such as that in place for the use of the drug for medical purposes, and interstate or international restrictions, are not impacted by the terms of the proposition. Its scope is the state of California, and any follow-up is at the local government level.

Advocates of the proposition cite the ability to raise tax dollars as a reason for support. The state of California is experiencing serious fiscal issues, and taxation of an activity that is already reasonably common in the state has been estimated to raise as much as $1.4 billion dollars annually, while decriminalization of some activities has been estimated to save a further billion dollars or so in areas such as law enforcement and correctional facilities, allowing such facilities to dedicate their resources to more dangerous crime. Supporters draw many parallels with the experiences of Prohibition of alcohol between 1920 and 1933 – that continued criminalization of the drug does not protect but instead leads to crime and health risks. Regulation on a local basis is claimed to fall in line with the state's Tenth Amendment rights, although there will surely be other conflicts with federal law as yet to be resolved. At the very least, advocates see this as the latest opportunity to encourage debate on the issue of legalization, and a continuation of efforts in California going back to 1972 and that have seen some legislation in both directions at the city and county level before – notably, the decriminalization in Mendocino County in 2000, much of which was repealed in 2008.

Opponents cite issues regarding public and workplace safety, concerns about the lack of restriction or zoning as to where such activities can take place, conflicts of interest with federal funding, and public health concerns, In general, the effects of a yes vote on the proposition are considered as being detrimental to neighborhoods and the community. There are also perhaps some other more curious objections. For example, supporters of the existing legislation legalizing medical use such as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and unions of growers and dispensaries supplying such medical marijuana, are perhaps surprisingly against Proposition 19. Most notable is the stance of Dennis Peron, the co-author of Proposition 215, which formerly legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons. He opposes Proposition 19 on the stance that there is no "recreational" use of the drug in his opinion, only medical; and that any mention of users seeking a "high" is an admission that they are in fact unknowing patients, and they should seek treatment for depression.

It turns out though the main reason things are so quiet about Proposition 19 is that none of the major candidates also going to the vote on November 2 are in support. Claiming yes on such a controversial proposition is very possibly seen as a way to lose votes. Current governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed SB 1449 into law, which decriminalizes possession of amounts of marijuana of less than one ounce, requiring no court appearance and simply punishable by a fine, much like a traffic ticket. In his signing statement, Schwarzenegger stated his opposition for Proposition 19, and that estimates of tax income from it were likely flawed. Both gubernatorial candidates, Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, are in opposition; both Attorney General candidates, Kamala Harris and Steve Cooley, also oppose. They are joined by many other high-profile incumbent and candidate politicians such as Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Carly Fiorina. A wide variety of political action committees are also against the proposition, which perhaps explains the silence about the proposition. Nobody is using it as fuel for political debate; the big guns have other things to argue about.

As it happens though, current opinion polls on Proposition 19 seem to indicate it may just about get the simple majority it needs to pass, with many polls showing over fifty percent support with a very small number of undecideds as election day approaches. That makes Proposition 19 currently better supported than either candidate for governor, and, while it is likely it may quietly go through, the local legislation that is to follow may be particularly hairy. No matter what happens in California on November 2, the sale of marijuana will still remain illegal under federal law under the Controlled Substances Act, with cannabis still appearing there on Schedule 1.

What's your opinion on the proposition?

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About darlingman1970

Born in the UK and a graduate in mathematics from Cambridge University, Chris Nash has followed a career in software engineering which he continued after moving the United States in 1996 and now brings him to California in 2010. However, Chris does not want to be considered as merely a code monkey, and has always been interested in writing; in areas as diverse as factual technical manuals all the way through to fiction. An avid reader, Chris is a fan particularly of mystery novels and enjoys above all the works of Agatha Christie and David Hewson. Chris has recently gone through some significant life changes which, at the moment, he is considering as the basis for a forthcoming novel and as food for thought on his blog. He manages to couple his loves of writing and technology and is particularly interested in how internet innovations have an impact on the writing and promotional process. Chris is a firm supporter of Creative Commons and other 'open' initiatives and believes strongly that such distribution mechanisms are the "right" way to handle intellectual property in an evolving digital world. Chris is a keen Nintendo DS and Wii player in his spare time, and is currently happily attached, living in the Central Coast area of California. Find him on Twitter as @darlingman1970. Don't ask him how old he is.
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One Response to Whatever Happened to Mary Jane? All Quiet on California’s Proposition 19

  1. Peter Reynolds says:

    As well as fighting against injustice, lies, misinformation and propaganda, we must remember to be positive too. Cannabis is a wonderful thing!:


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