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Friday, November 5, 2010

Why I should have voted no on Prop 19 - legalization of marijuana

Disclaimer - I live in LA and have a medical card although I thankfully do not have any condition that requires the use of pot to alleviate a chronic or debilitating condition. I am no longer the heavy smoker I once was but use it more for recreational and relaxing reasons and then mostly only at night. I can also comfortably go for a few weeks with out any. I also support the full legalization of consuming, growing and the selling, not just for medical use, of pot.

I initially favored Prop 19 and voted for it until I spoke to veterans of the original campaign to get Prop 215 (legalizing medical marijuana) passed 1996. To a person, they opposed 19 which led me to doing some research. What I learned was that 19 would have created a legal and logistical nightmare as well as turn some growers and customers into felons. A lot of smaller legal growers who may just grow for their own use or make a modest living off it would have been forced to stop because of excessive local taxes.

Firstly, every grower would have to get a license to grow and sell from the local city/town government. To preempt this, Rancho Cordova, a town outside Sacramento had already passed a law taxing a growing permit at $600 per square foot, or about $15,000 a year to grow one plant. Currently anyone with a medical card can grow their own pot. Under Prop 19 that person would have to get a license from the local authorities as well as written permission from a landlord if they live in a rented house or apartment.

This is what Prop 19 said:

"Prohibit and punish through civil fines or other remedies the possession, sale, possession for sale, cultivation, processing, or transportation of cannabis that was not obtained lawfully from a person pursuant to this section or section 11300."

As a customer I would have to carry legal proof that any pot I have was legally acquired from a licensed grower/dealer. I would have to get a receipt and carry it with me to smoke legally. Selling or even smoking with anyone under 21 would become a criminal act. Read this 'No on 19' story and you will understand why it had to lose.

Prop 19 was sponsored by a rich businessman, Richard Lee who owns two dispensaries in Oakland set up Prop 19 as a vehicle to become the largest, most profitable legal grower in the state. As one veteran of the medical pot wars said to me, "He wants to become the Annheuser of weed." Prop 19 as written would have made it difficult and far too expensive to legally grow by local authorities such as in Rancho Cordova, a model that would have been copies throughout the state. The sponsors of Prop 19 have already been granted large growing permits by the city of Oakland.

Currently anyone with a medical card can legally grow up to 8 plants. If that person lived in Rancho Cordova it would become economically impossible, turning what is now legal into something criminal. Local authorities in towns like Rancho Cordova would then have then aggressively gone after 'illegal' growers and consumers, imposing large fines which could be tacked on to property taxes.

Outgoing Gov. Schwarzenegger recently signed a law reducing the possession of up to an ounce to below a misdemeanor, at the level of a parking ticket with a max fine of $100 if you don't have a medical card.

Prop 19 would also criminalize pot use for anyone under 21, for selling to someone under 21 or even for sharing a joint with someone under 21. Currently, anyone under 21 caught with an ounce or less will pay a maximum fine of $100 with no other repercussions. Under Prop 19 a student could lose financial aid and graduate with a criminal record killing any chance of a good job. In some fields such as Law, it could prevent them from every achieving their goal.

Despite the economy, the current law allows a lot of people to make money (not fortunes in most cases) in the pot business. It's become a healthy legal to quasi legal small business that is growing organically for a lot of people. Prop 19 would have put tons of people out of business and would have concentrated the wealth in the hands of a few powerful and rich growers, like many American industries,

A far better proposition will come along soon and when it does it will pass. As with so many Propositions, especially from the right, they are couched in language that sounds reasonable and appears to make sense. You have to dig deep at times to find out what it's really all about. If 19 had passed it would have created a nightmare that would have been all but impossible to undo.

Here is a strong legal argument from pro pot advocates about the negative effects of the law. While the proposition does say it's 'purpose' is to retain the provisions of Prop 215, the use of the word 'purpose' has no legal standing and local authorities under Prop 19 could overrule virtually all aspects of Prop 215, particularly the right of a card holder to grow pot for their own use.

Prop 19 showed there is significant support for legalizing pot in a an election year where political considerations shifted the demographics of who voted to an older electorate which hurt Prop 19 as well. The right proposal at the right time will pass. This wasn't it for a number of reasons.

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