Pubdate: Sat, 21 Aug 2010
Source: Colusa County Sun-Herald (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Freedom Communications
Author: Thomas D. Elias
Cited: Proposition 19


When the Proposition 19 marijuana legalization initiative qualified
for the ballot with a yes-or-no due vote in the November election, its
passage seemed almost a foregone conclusion.

Tax the approximately $12 billion pot industry in this state and you
could collect $1.4 billion toward solving the state's budget deficit,
not to mention helping out cash-strapped local governments.

You would also take hundreds, maybe thousands, of law enforcement
officers off the drug beat and allow them to go after "real
criminals," said supporters of legalization.

Since many surveys show that well over 50 percent of adult
Californians have puffed a reefer at some time in their lives, you
would think passage would be a snap.

But the polls don't all look that way. In fact, indications are
there's a strong possibility this proposition could fail, just like a
similar one did 38 years ago, in 1972.

The usually reliable Field Poll last month found that 48 percent of
likely voters opposed legalization, while 44 percent were in favor.
That seems like a narrow margin, but ballot propositions that trail
several months before an election usually lose. Other recent surveys
using live questioners yielded similar results.

And yet, in three automated polls taken at about the same times with
questions asked robotically, the measure led by as much as 15 percent.
So voters may be lying to the live operators out of some sense of shame.

A six-month study by the nonpartisan Santa Monica-based Rand Drug
Policy Research Center released at almost the same time as the poll
results gives many clues about why they might feel shame about
legalizing pot, even if they eventually vote for it.

The number of pot smokers in California would rise significantly, the
study concluded, but no one knows exactly how much because no one
knows either what the tax might be on an ounce of cannabis or the
level of tax evasion that might ensue.

(Another unknown: Would Republicans who have taken a "no-new-taxes"
pledge make an exception for a pot levy?)

For sure, the report says, marijuana prices would drop sharply, just
like the price of liquor after Prohibition. An 80 percent drop is a
strong possibility, the report said.

This, too, would have tax implications. The estimates of about $1.4
billion in tax revenues after legalization are based on current
prices, which often top $300 per ounce.

One more factor with probable heavy tax implications: The proposed new
law would allow cannabis cultivation by anyone. It's unclear whether
home gardens could be taxed, or how a tax collector might learn about
any individual garden. Also unclear: what drug cartel operators of the
many indoor hydroponic farms and large marijuana gardens in
California's national forests might do.

All this, of course, begs the real question about legalization: What
damage could it do? This country, as initiative sponsors note, already
has more pot smokers than any other, despite current enforcement efforts.

While Proposition 19 specifically allows state and local governments
to retain bans on bringing pot to schools or peddling it there and
lets them keep laws against driving under its influence, there's
nothing to prevent the kind of general malaise of which the Harvard
University Mental Health Letter warned in its April issue.

"The psychiatric risks are well documented," the journal said. "They
include addiction, anxiety and psychosis."

Just what California needs: More anxious, psychotic pot

Nobody is quite sure why, but these kinds of fears and questions may
be more prevalent among minority voters than whites. The Field survey
found that while white likely voters support the measure, it is
heavily opposed by Asians, Latinos and African-Americans. Could this
be because the drug culture is viewed least romantically by those it
damages most?

Field also found women oppose legalization by a 9 percent margin while
males are evenly divided.

Did lying by voters who fear being exposed as pro-drug somehow
influence the live poll findings? Maybe, but Field poll director Mark
DiCamillo has often talked about how he and other pollsters compensate
for the inevitable component of lies by responders. But this is no
ordinary issue: The results of automated polls like those run by
Survey USA suggest that pot may spur far more than the normal amount
of prevarication.

The pot initiative is also hurt by its own vagueness: It leaves all
regulation up to cities and counties while spelling out very few
details. The past is full of inequitable laws enacted to "clarify"
what the voters meant after they passed initiatives like the 1978
Proposition 13 property tax cuts and the Proposition 65 clean water
initiative of 1986.

All of which makes the fate of Proposition 19 as uncertain as any
proposition's ever has been. For sure, if this one loses, it will not
be by nearly as large a margin as the 2-1 defeat suffered by the
state's previous attempt at legalizing marijuana. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake