While I’m glad that The Daily says they recognize the value of legalizing marijuana at least in theory, their objections to Prop 19 are misguided. Let’s take them one-by-one.
Daily Objection 1. Letting states have their own laws weakens the federal government
… Suppose a conservative state were debating a proposition that would make it illegal for a woman to have an abortion. Every Democrat in the country would be campaigning to put an end to the bill, and in all likelihood, the same people who are championing Proposition 19 would be on the streets calling the people of the conservative state traitors to America.
The Daily says that because we would oppose state laws that restrict individual liberty (such as laws against abortion) that the federal government currently guarantees, we should also oppose state laws that protect personal liberties that the federal government currently infringes on. This makes no sense. We can consistently support individual liberties everywhere, and voting yes on Prop 19 does just that.
Even social conservatives would likely argue that the better way to contest abortion would be to overturn Roe v. Wade, not contradict the ruling via a state law.
Why not, as The Daily suggests, just rely on the Supreme Court to decide that marijuana prohibition is unconstitutional? It won’t. Among other reasons, the same expansion of the Commerce Clause that allowed for progressive government programs has also given the federal government power to outlaw marijuana.
Daily Objection 2. Fear of conflict with the federal government
But what the [Daily editorial] board finds particularly troubling about Proposition 19 is its contradiction of federal law. … In the case of Proposition 19, the Attorney General made clear the Justice Department would “vigorously enforce” federal laws against marijuana even if the proposition passes.
Prop 19 does not “contradict” federal law. Marijuana will continue to be illegal under federal law, and F.B.I. agents will continue drug raids, even against peaceful Californians. In areas where the Constitution grants powers to the federal government, federal laws have supremacy over state laws (by the Supremacy Clause, and a bunch of doctrine I don’t claim to be an expert on). But there is no requirement that California make illegal everything the federal government makes illegal, and the feds can’t commandeer state cops to enforce federal laws. Go look this up on the Internet if you’re still unconvinced.
If, however, the federal government chooses to step up raids against peaceful marijuana users in California, I would expect a massive, popular backlash against the unwarranted federal intervention. Local cops busting kids for weed is one thing; militaristic F.B.I. riot cops taking orders from Washington busting down doors for pot is far more likely to make the average citizen question the value of the drug war.
Daily Objection 3. Unclear language on workplace marijuana use
According to its terms, employers cannot discriminate against workers who smoke, but they can reprimand poor performance that results from stoned employees. This led opponents of the bill to claim that a trucking company could not stop stoned drivers from getting behind the wheel until an accident occurred. The proposition’s vague language makes it difficult to determine if that’s true. Therefore, if Proposition 19 passes, the editorial board strongly supports the California legislature taking steps to clarify and standardize what could be a very sticky situation.
The proposition’s language on this is, indeed, confusing. In researching for The Review’s Prop 19 editorials, I wasn’t able to find a definitive legal interpretation. (This blog post is my own opinion, not that of The Review Editorial Board.) However, two things give me comfort.
The first is that Prop 19 would treat marijuana use in the same way as alcohol. Employers can’t punish employees for drinking alcohol on their own personal time unless it affects their job performance. Most people would agree with this policy, including The Daily. Why should marijuana be any different? If personal, non-consequential marijuana use should be punishable, but alcohol shouldn’t, then where do you draw the line? Should all employers be able to require that employees get to bed by 8 p.m. before their shift the next day, if that’s shown to be strongly correlated with workplace safety?
The second reason is that the courts will interpret Prop 19 within a time-tested body of legal doctrine. I’m no California constitutional lawyer, but it seems unlikely that the courts will interpret this one sentence in Prop 19 to mean something entirely different from the intent stated elsewhere in the prop (to not affect employers’ rights in this regard) and entirely different from how the official California Legislative Analyst’s Office read it (they agreed that it will not affect employers’ abilities to handle on-the-job pot use). Even the strongest advocate of constitutional originalism would have a hard time convincing people to interpret Prop 19 in this way.
Take heart that all of the groups pushing this scare tactic–that your kid’s school bus driver will be smoking joints–will, if Prop 19 passes, immediately shift to building a strong legal case for why Prop 19 doesn’t affect employers’ abilities to discipline workplace marijuana use.
Daily Objection 4. Marijuana companies would advertise to kids
On the other hand, it raises some concerns, like the possible boom of marijuana advertisements geared toward teens.
The federal government already tightly regulates cigarette and alcohol advertising and has been quite effective in reducing children’s exposure to these ads, especially recently. There is absolutely no reason to believe they wouldn’t also regulate marijuana advertising. Of course, marijuana companies would be highly unlikely to advertise widely until marijuana was legalized on a federal level, since they’re unlikely to grow large enough with the threat of a federal raid looming over them (and any potential investors who would want to fund their expansion) and in a highly uncertain regulatory environment.
Also, even if Prop 19 passes, marijuana would still be illegal for people under 21!
Consider what opposing Prop 19 means. It means supporting the continuation of a failed drug war that deals disproportionate harm to innocent victims and minorities, just in the hopes of reducing marijuana use by willing (non-innocent) users. It means supporting a drug prohibition that a large portion of campus openly flouts, and which if fully enforced would ruin the bright futures of many Stanford students. It means attempting to defy the laws of economics that many of us study, by advocating for continued government enforcement of the drug gangs’ monopolies and by trying to violently constrict supply for a product that’s been shown to have relatively inelastic demand (except in Singapore). It means implicitly advocating for the continuation of military policies that have done great harm to the Central American countries where many of our fellow students come from.
If you’re swayed by people who say Prop 19 isn’t the perfect way of legalizing marijuana, are you willing to wait for the establishment to produce one? And do you really think that there could ever be a marijuana legalization bill about which no interest groups (the feds, the alcohol industry, law enforcement, prison guards, etc.) could conjure up scare tactics?