Prop 19: What if it Works?

Prop 19: What if it Works?

This election, Californians have a new initiative to consider.  Prop19: The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 seeks to “legalize various marijuana-related activities”, or essentially make it okay to smoke pot in California.  It limits possession to an ounce, and requires users to be over the age of 21.  There’s an official website here.  And the state of California offers information here.

My knee-jerk reaction to this proposition was to vote “no”.  I’ve personally never done (illegal) drugs and saw no value in legalizing any of them now.  I’m not easily sold on the argument that drugs make a good revenue stream, nor do I trust we can easily put that genie back in the bottle.

But as time has gone on, I’ve had new thoughts.  What if California legalizes pot?  How much different from the status quo is that really?  We already have medical dispensaries that accept cash and distribute the drug almost indiscriminately.  And what if selling marijuana actually works here?

One of the strengths of our country is federalism.  We have a national government that provides central laws, but each of our states has sovereignty of their own.  They can legislate for themselves as well.   That is why I pay state income tax in California, but most people reading this in Texas do not.  It’s also the same reason that same sex marriage is not (currently) legal here, but it is in New Hampshire.

I’m a fan of federalism.  It gives us flexibility and strength that other countries lack.  We can allow individual states to carry out experiments of their own without adversely affecting the entire country.  (Obmacare REALLY should have tried this approach)  A large portion of me is starting to think Californians deserve to choose whether they want to experiment with marijuana or not.

First, let’s discuss the Tenth.  The tenth amendment, that is: State’s Rights.  Many people feel that the regulation of marijuana is no different than the regulation of other intoxicants.  States decide their own laws for the distribution and use of alcohol everyday.   Whether it’s what age you can legally enter a bar to the age of consumption itself.  Some states even save the option of selling hard liquor for themselves, leaving only beer and wine for private retailers.

Second, there’s production and distribution.  California has hundreds of dispensaries in place right now. They have growers too.  For more than a decade, Californians have been refining the machinery needed to successfully manage and regulate marijuana consumption.  They’re not new to this rodeo, and their current level of expertise is an excellent jumping off point.

Third, speaking of those dispensaries, a lot of Californians have noticed that marijuana already “feels” legal here.  Sure you have to see a “doctor”.  But that doctor takes cash and can prescribe Mary Jane for anything from back pain to depression.  My neighbor, who had a habit of smoking it under my window, toked up for her depression.  (which ironically added to mine)  And Arnold just decriminalized possession here, so getting caught with pot is akin to jaywalking or getting a speeding ticket.  In all reality, ganja is not some alien substance on the streets of California.  Your neighbor, coworker, or the waitress at your favorite diner are all likely to have some on them, and you don’t even realize it.  Again, if you’re going to conduct an experiment on legalizing marijuana, Californians seem apt to carry that experiment out.

Fourth, and maybe most importantly, this is our chance to solve one of greatest bar room discussions of the past century.  For nearly one hundred years, this nation has wrestled with various forms of prohibition.  And for the past couple of decades, we’ve started to ask ourselves how successful we’ve been.  Does this war on drugs even work?  Some say no.  Some would say that we’ve lost the war and we’re continuing to lose.  Some would say we’ve reached a point where innocent citizens are becoming casualties of this war.  And some would say that legalizing all drugs is an inevitability anyway.

Others (and this is the camp that I’m in) say that we are not losing the war on drugs any more than we are losing the war on speeding.  You can argue that drugs are illegal, yet people do them anyway.  But you can also argue that speeding is illegal, and people do that anyway.  Stealing is illegal.  Arson is illegal.  Writing bad checks is illegal.  But thousands of people are caught doing these things each day.  Are we losing all of these wars?  And if so, should we decriminalize every activity that people still choose to do?  I say no.  And I’m not alone.

However… They say talk is cheap, and (some) Californians are willing to do more than talk about it.  While I personally do not support the legalization of marijuana, it would be hypocritical of me to espouse State’s Rights on some issues and not on others based on my prejudices.  With that in mind, I’m willing to respect the voters’ decision this Tuesday.

California has the resources, the experience, and the culture to let all of the hypothesized scenarios play out.  If you wanted to see what legalized pot does to an American community, then The Golden State is one of the better Petri dishes we have.  If the experiment goes awry, we can always repeal the law.  Or a court can overturn the law (Cali courts have a habit of this anyway).  So while I do not condone the legalization of marijuana, myself, I am willing to let Californians decide what to do for themselves.  Besides… What if it works?

Photo Credit: Torben Bjørn Hansen

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