Prop 64: Should We Legalize It?

Let’s all of us in California decide Election Day is also Statewide Taco Tuesday. If you can make an informed decision not just on federal, state and local elections, but also 17 statewide ballot initiatives, you’ll deserve a taco and a beer.

I plan to take this forum to sort through the California ballot one blog post at a time.

I hope it’s helpful and I welcome your comments.

Among many consequential initiatives, the one getting perhaps the most media attention is Proposition 64 — Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA)

Voting YES on Prop 64 would legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults over 21 years of age. The initiative would provide for cultivation, marketing and sale of marijuana and levies a 15% state excise tax.

Prominent supporters of Prop 64 include Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, the California Medical Association and the California Academy of Preventive Medicine. The primary funder for Prop 64 is Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker. The Parker Foundation provides hundreds of millions of dollars in philanthropy, primarily for medical research. So far, Parker has provided $2.5M for Prop 64.

Proponents say Prop 64 will:

  • Reduce the burden on the criminal justice system
  • Raise potentially hundreds of millions in tax revenue
  • Provide for state regulation of quality and potency
  • Address environmental impacts of illegal cultivation
  • Allow for regulated cultivation of hemp for industrial use
  • Provide for millions in funding for research into medical use of cannabis

Beyond the utilitarian arguments for legalization, proponents argue prohibition of marijuana is an issue of social justice and personal liberty. They point to devestating effects of incarceration on individual lives and on society as a whole.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein opposes Prop 64 citing concern over provisions that would allow restricted television advertising that could reach children. (Advertising marijuana remains illegal federally, and it is federal agencies that regulate broadcast licenses. That is likely why there has yet to be any television advertising in Colorado for marijuana businesses or products.)

Sacramento County District Attorney Anne-Marie Schubert is opposed to Prop 64. She is concerned about the danger legalization would pose to children.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer says enough time hasn’t passed to know the long term effects of legalzation in other states, like Colorado.

Legal sale and use of recreational marijuana began in Colorado in 2014. Law enforcement officials say they are burdened to make sense of, and enforce, a complex and growing set of regulations. For example, there is no equivalent to the BAC field breathalyzer for marijuana intoxication. Testing for pot requires a blood test and there is no science-based standard for what level of THC constitutes impairment. There is evidence to suggest that marijuana related traffic fatalities have increased significantly in Colorado.

Prior to legalization, marijuana use in Colorado among kids 12–17 was high and has remained high. So far, legalization does not seem to have made a difference either way. There has been an increase in the incidence of small children being treated for accidental pot consumption. Many “edibles” — THC infused candies, cakes, cookies and brownies — are easily confused with conventional goodies. While the effects of acute marijuana toxicity in adults are temporary and easily treated, the effects in children can be quite alarming and traumatic including reduced cardiopulmonary function.

With all of that said, state officials in Colorado are saying there have been no widely felt negative effects. Legalization began a billion dollar a year industry in the state, creating thousands of jobs and generating $135M in tax revenue last year. They’ve begun the process of bringing good governance to a widely popular black market substance.

Opponents of legalization are concerned that a hugely profitable pot industry could quickly capture regulatory agencies, undermining efforts to protect the public, as has happened with alchohol and tobacco. They are concerned about the long term effects on society if marijuana use becomes a normal part of every day life.

To be sure, there are pernicious effects of marijuana use on the developing brain in children and young adults. There is mounting evidence connecting regular marijuana use to increased incidence of schizophrenia and paranoid delusions in children and adults with predisposition to mental illness. While it is not physically addictive, marijuana is psychologically addictive to a significant number of users. Prolonged, regular use of marijuana creates an emotional barrier between the user and the outside world. For high performing, driven professionals, marijuana can provide welcome relief from stress and promote creativity. For adults who struggle emotionally or intellectually to engage and achieve personally and professionally, regular use can further depress the drive to succeed and connect. For an average person, pot is something to indulge in occassionally to enhance enjoyment of a movie, a good meal or to get silly with friends.

Washington, D.C., and four states have legalized recreational pot — Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington. California took the lead among 20 states that have legalized use of medical marijuana. According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people reporting they have used marijuana in the last year has doubled from 4.1% in 2001–02 to 9.5% in 2012–13. According to the study published by the American Medical Association, one in three users show signs of dependency.

California ranks 13th in the US for pot use at 13%. That means 5 million of our fellow citizens are consuming an unregulated substance. Users have no way to be sure of quality, purity or potency.

It is useful here to reference our state Constitution, ratified in 1880.

SKC. 1. All men are by nature free and independent, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; and pursuing and obtaining safety and happiness.

SKC. 2. All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for the protection, security, and benefit of the people, and they have the right to alter or reform the same whenever the public good may require it.

I have come to believe it is a Constitutional mandate for state government to create a framework to control, regulate and tax marijuana for the public good. It is not without reservations that I will vote YES in November for Prop 64. Doing this right will require diligence, creativity and accountability in government and each individual will need to exercise personal responsibility.

I hope we are up for the challenge.

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Sources and Additional Reading:

Read the full text of Proposition 64.

Here’s a detailed source to learn about the medical affects of marijuana intoxication and long term use. (Medscape is a division of WebMD directed at medical professionals.)

Have a look at this Sac Bee article covering supporters and opponents of Prop 64 and their rationale.

Here’s a solid piece in the Boston Globe describing what has happened so far in Colorado since pot legalization in 2014.

Read this CNN piece describing increases in marijuana usage in the US.

Here is an article in the Orange County Register about the non-profit group opposed to Prop 64, The California Coalition for Public Safety.

Learn about the Automobile Association of America (AAA) take on driving while intoxicated on marijuana.

Take a tour of the website for NORML, a non-profit activist organization opposed to marijuana prohibition.

Review the full text of our California State Constitution.