In November, voters will get to decide just how “green” they want California to be. If passed, Proposition 19 will permit the cultivation, sale, and use of marijuana by recreational smokers and entrepreneurs in California. The new legislation offers voters a solution to California’s economic woes and of course a major step forward in the legalization of marijuana. But have the residents of California responsibly assessed the consequences of a community that doesn’t pass on grass?
Young adults represent one distinct voter bloc that appears in large part not to “pass on grass.” In fact, those between ages 18 and 34 favor the proposition at a rate of around 70%, according to the latest PPIC survey. And that support comes in spite of the fact that 18 to 21 year olds would still be prohibited from smoking recreationally.
Stanford student Michael Kutzscher ’11 remarked, “Since legal channels would be the easiest to get the pot through, it may become harder for the 18 to 21 year-old crowd to get a hold of it. Not significantly though—it’s not all that hard for 18 year-olds to get alcohol today.”
Dr. Keith Humphreys, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford who opposes the proposition, agreed that young people will find a way to overcome the age restriction of Prop 19.
He noted, “[Legalization] will cause a dramatic drop in the price of marijuana, so that means you will get a lot more users…. That group is made up mainly of young people, teenagers, the unemployed, low-income people.”
Another important issue is the potential nature of the legal pot industry. Low pot prices in California might attract the attention of cartels and corporations alike.
Humphreys commented, “If you are a Mexican cartel and California legalizes marijuana, you will move a lot of your operation right into California.”
Dr. Joseph McNamara, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the former Chief of Police in San Jose, disagreed: “How much money do the drug cartels make off tobacco and alcohol? The answer is nothing.”
A proponent of Proposition 19, McNamara believes that legalization would almost guarantee a reduction in marijuana-related crime. Furthermore, he argues that government regulation would improve health and safety concerns. He explained: “We have no control whatsoever over what substances they mix together and the quality of the product.”
Therefore, he argues, legalization would guarantee government regulation and inspection to verify the safety of recreational marijuana.
Proponents of Prop 19 think that it will also improve public safety in another way. McNamara believes that Proposition 19 would free up law enforcement officers from a senseless battle against marijuana. “The primary police duties are to protect life and property, and the public isn’t terrified of pot smokers,” he said.
According to McNamara, a substantial number of drug-related arrests are for people that possess small amounts of marijuana. If police focus their limited time and manpower on busting marijuana smokers, they are likely devoting fewer resources to other crimes.
On the other hand, Humphreys asserted that, “the average person in the federal system who is there for a marijuana offense had over 100 pounds of marijuana.”
The debate on the economic impact of Proposition 19 could also be a determining factor for many voters.
Some have argued that, as a result of lower prices and a safer product, interstate tourism might increase if Proposition 19 were to pass. Alex Klein ’11 said, “[Prop 19] will bring more people to the state, even if it is just for a recreational visit.”
But even if marijuana were legalized by the state, Prop 19 would still interfere with the Controlled Substances Act, the federal law that banned recreational weed.
According to Humphreys, the complications with the federal law would require more state spending, something that could put California at greater economic disadvantage. He noted, “Congress can withhold federal highway funds from California…and all this money we are allegedly going to make will be spent on lawyers fighting the federal government.”
That revenue to which Humphreys referred is the potential tax receipts that would result from taxing cannabis. Some Californians believe that these new tax dollars will help alleviate state budgetary woes by reducing the state deficit.
Klein indicated that “this proposition will raise revenue for the state in this difficult fiscal time.” Indeed, the State Board of Equalization has estimated that a 50 dollar per ounce levy on marijuana sales would generate nearly 1.4 billion dollars a year in new tax revenue.
McNamara remarked, “We have the potential to make an extremely worthwhile experiment, and, if it fails, then we can simply repeal the law as other states have done, and it’s not the end of the world.”
California residents will choose on November 2 whether or not they want to conduct this experiment.
— Additional reporting by Tom Corrigan