- Title: USA: Californians to vote on measure on whether to legalize marijuana
- Date: 28th October 2010
- Summary: LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES (RECENT) (REUTERS) LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF LEE BACA TALKING TO DEPUTY (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEROY BACA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF, SAYING: "Well, what it's going to do for law enforcement, Prop 19 is going to cause a lot of headaches for society. The reason I say this is because it's the health care costs that are going to skyrocket and they're already too high for alcoholism and every other kind addiction that Americans have. Now we want to legitimize one and then we want to say that 500 municipalities can decide how this will be done. So there's no really standard. So it's a political mess. It's a medical mess. It's a public safety mess."
- Embargoed: 12th November 2010 12:00
- Location: Usa
- Country: USA
- Topics: Crime / Law Enforcement,Domestic Politics
- Reuters ID: LVADX570TQ6XTNHWFFWB1ZGO52IG
- Story Text: For the first time in more than 30 years, Californians are set to vote on a ballot initiative that would legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana.
The measure, known as Proposition 19, has two distinct parts. The first would make it legal for anyone over age 21 to possess, share or transport up to one ounce of marijuana for personal use, as well as cultivate up to 25 square feet of marijuana plants.
The second part of the initiative would authorize cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial marijuana production and sales.
California has a long history of loosening the law on the usage of marijuana. In 1996, it became the first American state to allow sales of medicinal marijuana.
By far, marijuana, despite its present status as an illicit substance, is considered the largest cash crop in the state. Should marijuana be legalized, sales of the herb is expected to fill the state treasury with a windfall of millions of dollars in regulation fees and taxes.
But the measure is expected to fail in the November vote. Pre-election polling shows the proposition losing ground among voters. According to a Los Angeles Times / University of Souther California poll, released October 22, likely voters opposed the measure 51 percent to 39 percent in support.
Leading the opposition, predictably, are California's police and law enforcement. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca argues that the social and economic costs of Proposition 19 outweigh the economic benefits to the state.
"What it's going to do for law enforcement, Prop 19 is going to cause a lot of headaches for society. The reason I say this is because it's the health care costs that are going to skyrocket and they're already too high for alcoholism and every other kind addiction that Americans have. Now we want to legitimize one and then we want to say that 500 municipalities can decide how this will be done. So there's no really standard. So it's a political mess. It's a medical mess. It's a public safety mess," Baca said.
Proponents of the measure observe that illegal marijuana is easily available to most anyone with an inclination to procure it and so, in their view, it is sensible for the state government to reap any potential reward. Further, they say, the state expends hundreds of millions of dollars annually to process marijuana offenders through the California court and prison systems. And, finally, they argue, the legalization of marijuana would reduce the threat of crime and violence caused by Mexican cartels shipping their product across the border.
"What we've heard from the 'No on 19' folks, who are overwhelmingly law enforcement, and the favors that they can pull in, are really outdated 'reefer madness' claims about marijuana and it's impact on public health and public safety. The truth is that marijuana is already widely available and widely consumed. It is universally available to pretty much anyone," said Stephen Gutwillig, the California state director at the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports the legalization of marijuana If Proposition 19 were to pass, the measure would likely trigger a legal challenge from the federal government, in no small part because the equilibrium of the underground economy of marijuana production and usage would be upended. An ounce of marijuana, which, depending on the quality of the herb, presently retails on the black market for around 300 dollars. The price for legalized marijuana in California would likely drop to around 40 dollars. That attractive price would likely prompt dealers from other parts of the U.S. to travel to California, load up on a stash of legal marijuana, and then resell the weed illegally in other parts of the country.
"At that price, it would be cheaper for illicit drug dealers in the rest of the United States and Canada to come to California, and buy legally at retail and take the stuff home, than get it from their illicit supplier," said Mark Professor Kleiman, the director of drug policy analysis at the University of California Los Angeles. "California would become the cannabis supplier for all of North America, possibly to Mexico."
Proposition 19 has not gotten much support from California's elected officials. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and every major candidate for statewide office oppose the measure.
California residents have mixed opinions on the proposition.
Robert Carter thinks that leglization is the logical progression of an already widespread behavior.
"People are smoking weed in California, as is, illegally. Plus, they've got the medical marijuana license card, which is cool, you know. I mean I have back pains too, so smoking weed for me is actually a good therapeutical thing. But I think Prop 19 would be good on the economy, because you know, going to jail for an eighth of weed is just ridiculous," Carter said.
Long Beach resident Brian Grimshaw worries about public safety, if the measure were to pass.
"Prop 19, I think is probably a big mistake to the people of California, First of all, they sit there and they advertise the fact that they say that this is going to be a tax boon for California yet it authorizes legalization. There's also no consequences for driving under the influence, meaning if you want to take a toke and get in your car and drive, have at it. I think in the end it's just going to be a worse situation than what we have now," Grimshaw said.
The latest polling data has shown the proposition losing some ground among voters. According to a Los Angeles Times/University of Souther California poll, released on October 22, likely voters opposed the measure 51% to 39%. Until recently, the initiative had led in most polls, with support from about half of the electorate. The poll found that Democrats and independents favored the measure and Republicans strongly opposed it. Men were split, but women were leaning against it.
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