Pubdate: Wed, 04 Aug 2010
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2010 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Paul Armentano, Special to the Mercury News
Note: Paul Armentano of Vallejo is deputy director of NORML, the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and co-author
of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to
Drink? He co-chairs the Health Professionals steering committee for
the Proposition 19 campaign and wrote this article for this newspaper.


The California Legislative Analyst's Office's recently published
critique of Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act
of 2010, provides needed clarity to the ongoing debate regarding
marijuana policy and offers a swift rebuttal to the doomsday scenarios
touted by many of the measure's opponents.

According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the immediate effect of
the measure would be to allow adults age 21 and older to possess and
grow limited amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their own home.
The agency estimates that halting the prosecution of these minor
marijuana offenses would save state and local governments "several
tens of millions of dollars annually," and enable law enforcement to
reprioritize resources toward other criminal activities.

The longer-term impact of Proposition 19 would be to enable "local
governments to adopt ordinances and regulations regarding commercial
marijuana-related activities." These activities would include taxing
and licensing establishments to produce and dispense marijuana to
persons 21 and older. By doing so, "state and local governments could
eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in
additional revenues," the office estimates.

Predictably, critics of Proposition 19 have tried to paint a much more
foreboding picture. For example, California senior Sen. Dianne
Feinstein claims that the measure is "a jumbled legal nightmare that
will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe."

Not so, says the Legislative Analyst's Office, which calls Feinstein's
fears about pending workplace and roadway calamities unfounded. States
the office: "(T)he measure would not change existing laws that
prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or that prohibit
possessing marijuana on the grounds of elementary, middle, and high
schools. "... (E)mployers would retain existing rights to address
consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee's job

Opponents' other claims -- that Proposition 19 will dramatically
increase consumption and cost the state millions in health and social
costs -- ring equally hollow.

Right now virtually anyone in California who wishes to obtain or
consume marijuana can do so, and it is hard to believe that adults who
presently abstain from cannabis would no longer do so simply because
certain restrictions on its use were lifted.

Finally, unlike alcohol and tobacco -- two legal but deadly products
- -- marijuana's estimated social costs are minimal.

According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse,
health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than
they are for those who use cannabis and are more than 40 times higher
for tobacco smokers. It states, "In terms of (health-related) costs
per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user,
alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and
cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user."

A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization
agreed, stating, "On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much
less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol
and tobacco in Western societies."

So then why are we so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy
of their own home?

California lawmakers criminalized the possession and use of marijuana
in 1913 -- a full 24 years before the federal government enacted
prohibition. Yet right now in California, the federal government
reports that one out of 10 people annually use marijuana and together
consume about 1.2 million pounds of it. Self-evidently, cannabis is
here to stay. Let's address this reality and stop ceding control of
this market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises and put it in
the hands of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first step in
this direction. 
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D