Pubdate: Sun, 19 Sep 2010
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: E - 9
Copyright: 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Debra J. Saunders
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


"In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure," 
former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent concluded at the 
close of his new book, "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition." 
"It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. It 
deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the 
political system, and proposed profound limitations on individual rights."

America's laws against marijuana have had similar effect. About 40 
percent of Americans have tried the weed. In March, the Partnership 
for a Drug Free America reported that 38 percent of ninth-through 
12th-graders studied in 2009 reported consuming marijuana in the past month.

The last three presidents opposed legalizing marijuana, even though 
President Obama says he smoked marijuana, George W. Bush hinted that 
he did and Bill Clinton said he did not inhale. Gov. Arnold 
Schwarzenegger inhaled on camera - and the most he'll say now is that 
it is "time for a debate" on Proposition 19, the November ballot 
measure that would legalize marijuana under state (but not federal) law.

In 2005, Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron looked at the cost of 
marijuana prohibition. He estimated that legalizing and taxing 
marijuana would yield $6.2 billion in annual tax revenue nationally - 
assuming that governments levied taxes comparable to alcohol and 
tobacco taxes. In addition, the federal government would save $2.4 
billion, while state and local governments would save $5.3 billion on 

Miron has argued that usage rates would not necessarily rise if 
marijuana is legal. I think usage will go up; even proponents admit 
that Prop. 19's passage probably would lower the cost. There is no 
way to sugarcoat the possibility that, despite bill language that 
legalizes possession only for adults 21 years old or older, some 
teens may find it easier to get pot. And that is not a good thing.

On the other hand, it's not as if prohibition has put a dent in teen 
usage. The same survey that found that found 38 percent of high 
school students had used marijuana found that 39 percent consumed 
alcohol in the past month.

Okrent believes that legalizing and regulating marijuana could make 
it harder for young teens to get. The repeal of Prohibition - with 
closing hours, age limits and government's ability to shutter 
violators - "made it harder, not easier, to get a drink."

Pleasant Hill Police Chief Pete Dunbar told The Chronicle Editorial 
Board that the violence associated with the marijuana trade makes it 
"the most dangerous drug" of all. Hence his opposition to Prop. 19.

But the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition includes a growing 
number of former cops and prosecutors who support Prop. 19 because 
they want to starve criminal enterprises.

Stephen Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, 
likened drug gangs to a starfish - cut off one limb, and they grow 
another. "If you take away 60 percent of the cartels' traffic, it 
will have a real impact on their profits," Downing told me.

"California's No. 1 cash crop is marijuana," he added. California 
growers, under regulation and paying taxes, could squeeze Mexican 
cartels out of the trade.

Downing told me he sees it as his "patriotic duty" to fight for Prop. 19.

Dunbar called the measure "too loosey-goosey." Prop. 19 leaves it to 
local governments to decide if they want to regulate and tax the 
production and sale of marijuana - and that means different laws for 
different locales.

But as attorney James Wheaton, who wrote the measure, explained, 
"Oakland is going to have completely different issues than Humboldt 
County." Communities that want to ban the sale of marijuana will be 
free to do so.

When I was younger, I knew kids who started using drugs and never 
reached their full potential.

Today, I have a lot of successful friends who used marijuana when 
they were younger, are glad they never were arrested, but say they 
will vote against Prop. 19 because they don't want to send the wrong 
message. In part, I think, they want the government to do their 
parenting for them. But it's wrong to criminalize behavior - 
possession of up to an ounce of (nonmedical) marijuana remains a 
misdemeanor in California - to send a message. You criminalize 
behavior that threatens public safety. While marijuana use can 
threaten public safety, in every way, laws against marijuana enrich 
criminal cartels.

What is the benefit? To decrease the chance of kids using drugs - by 
what, 1 percent? - the public for years has backed laws that fuel 
criminal practices.

Two years before repeal of Prohibition, smart people were convinced 
that Prohibition would never be overturned. Its author proclaimed 
that there was as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as 
there was for a hummingbird to fly to Mars "with the Washington 
Monument tied to its tail."

Okrent told me he didn't know he was for Prop. 19 until he started 
promoting his book. "People are going to consume this stuff," he told me.

It's just that simple. That's why the law doesn't work.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake