Tuesday, October 12, 2010

California's Prop 19 to Legalize Marijuana

See what we miss in Alaska by not having billboards?

Actual Billboard

Sunday's front page LA Times article about the marijuana initiative by Shari Roan begins:

"In 1969, Carol McDonald was 28, married and the mother of two young children, out for an evening of fun with a couple who smoked marijuana. By the end of the evening she was on her way to a 19-year addiction."

Then it wanders through research that finds marijuana fairly benign to studies that are more critical.  And it looks at a lot of issues.
  • Impact on Mexican drug cartels?
    A:  Make them less powerful or Make them push harder drugs harder. 

  • Impact on addiction? 
    A:  Addicts will be treated rather than jailed or more people will become addicted.

  • Impact on driving? 
    A:  Little or moderate impact, but significant if mixed with alcohol or no lab detectable effects on driving ability.

  • Impact on lungs? 
    A:  Hard to tell "because a large portion of heavy marijuana users also smoke tobacco, which muddies the picture of marijuana's effects."

  • Impact on brain functions?
    A:  "Experts tend to agree that smoking marijuana causes short-term memory loss, they disagree widely on the overall cognitive effects of the drug."

  • Impact on people moving up to harder drugs?
    A:  Not really, but the younger kids are when they start, the more likely to be addicted.

  • Impact on school performance?
    A:  Not as bad as alcohol, but will put you behind.

  • Impact on marijuana use?
    A:  No one knows, but some say use will go up, others say with legal medical marijuana and widespread illegal use, it shouldn't increase by much.
Some things are generally agreed on:
  • "that marijuana should be avoided during pregnancy and that it is harmful for people with mental illness or who are at risk for developing a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia." 
  •  " Marijuana is addictive for about 9% of adults who use it (compared with about 15% who use alcohol and 15% who use cocaine), according to federal data. Because it is the most widely used illegal substance in the country, marijuana dependence is more common than addiction to either cocaine or heroin despite its lower addiction potential."

"The bottom line is that marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes," Gutwillig added. "It's far less addictive than either of them. People tend to use marijuana in smaller amounts. It does not have alcohol's noxious association with violence and reckless behavior. And you can't overdose."
Then there are some concerns about how the law will be implemented.  Finally it gets back to Carol McDonald.  After chronicling her years of addiction, the article ends
Even after what she went through, McDonald said she would like to see marijuana legalized so that people who have problems with the drug will be steered into treatment.
Even "as someone who has been far down the rabbit hole, I still don't think it's as dangerous as alcohol," she said. "But if I'd had any inkling of what it would do, I would have been more careful."

My take is that marijuana is a symbolic issue.  It goes back to the 60's.  If you were around then and believe the 60's represented a blossoming of freedom, opposition to hypocrisy, and the beginning of a new awareness of human rights and the environment, then you probably lean toward legalizing pot.

If you were around then and think those times began the slow collapse of the family and American tradition, then marijuana is the symbol of all that was wrong back then and you're likely to oppose legalizing pot.  (If you feel that way about the 60's, but weren't around then, you might not make the ideological link between pot and the 60's, especially if you experienced pot as you grew up.)

Alcohol brings a lot of problems to our society and one could argue that marijuana would just add to that.  But it seems to me that marijuana is far more benign than alcohol and we don't ban many things that carry risks (driving cars, owning guns, bungee jumping, etc.)  And banning marijuana (and other drugs) has spawned a huge illegal trade which is having catastrophic impacts on Mexico and the US. 

It seems reasonable to me to try this out in California and see what happens, see if we can't make things work better with legal marijuana than with illegal marijuana.  It won't be without harmful side effects, but we already have huge harmful side effects with it being illegal.

Besides, it's practically legal already according to an LA Times piece by George Skelton:

In California, selling marijuana for non-medicinal use is a felony. But possessing less than one ounce — about a sandwich baggie-full — is a low misdemeanor punishable by a fine.

Starting Jan. 1, pot smoking will be even less of a state crime. Under a bill recently signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, it will be deemed an infraction, equivalent to a traffic ticket.
Since 1996, when voters approved Prop. 215, it has been legal in California to grow, sell and smoke marijuana for medical purposes, subject to local control. A "patient" needs only a doctor's "recommendation," not a prescription.

Merely a quarter of buyers at medicinal pot shops "are truly in need of it because of a medical condition," says attorney George Mull, president of the California Cannabis Assn., which advocates "reasonable regulation of medical marijuana." [emphasis added]

But I haven't studied this proposition in detail and lots of prominent people oppose Prop. 19. 

The LA Times endorses a NO vote.

Their print version on October 10 says that both the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor (Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown) and for US Senator (Carly Fiorina and Barbara Boxer) and US Senator Dianne Feinstein oppose Prop 19.

So does the attorney for the California Cannabis Association quoted in the Skelton piece above:
Mull opposes Prop. 19, illustrating a split in the marijuana community.

And it would still be a Federal felony setting up a showdown between the Feds and the State.  Where are all those states' rights conservatives on this issue? 

Ballotmedia also has a lot of information on Prop. 19 including the full text.


  1. It still amazes me that this plant is still illegal.

  2. Well, I wouldn't legalise it. We have conservative government, so thank God for a while it is not an issue here.


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