Pubdate: Sun, 26 Sep 2010
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Copyright: 2010 Ledger-Enquirer
Pubdate: Sun, 26 Sep 2010
Source: Ledger-Enquirer (Columbus,GA)
Author: Mark Wohlsen


SAN FRANCISCO -- California has a long history of defying conventional
wisdom on the issue of marijuana, including its embrace of the drug in
the 1960s and its landmark medical pot law 14 years ago. So it may not
be all that surprising that a November ballot measure to legalize the
drug has created some odd alliances and scenarios.

Pot growers have opposed it. Some police have favored it. Polls show
the public is deeply divided. Only politicians have lined up as
expected: Nearly all major party candidates oppose the measure. And
hanging over the whole debate is the fact that marijuana remains
illegal under federal law.

As the Nov. 2 election nears, Proposition 19 has become about much
more than the pros and cons of the drug itself. The campaigns have
framed the vote as a referendum on everything from jobs and taxes to
crime and the environment.

The measure gained ground in a Field Poll released Sunday, pulling
ahead 49 percent to 42 percent among likely voters. The poll also
found that Californians have become steadily more permissive toward
the drug since pollsters began quizzing state residents about their
attitudes 40 years ago.

Proponents say the measure is a way for the struggling state and its
cities to raise badly needed funds. A legal pot industry, they say,
would create jobs while undercutting violent criminals who profit off
the illegal trade in the drug.

"I think it's a golden opportunity for California voters to strike a
real blow against the (Mexican) drug cartels and drug gangs," said
Joseph McNamara, who served as San Jose's police chief for about 15
years. "That would be a greater blow than we ever struck during my 35
years in law enforcement."

Supporters, including a group of former and current law enforcement
officials, have called attention to the failure of the so-called "War
on Drugs" to put a dent in pot production in California, and they say
police need to pursue more dangerous crimes.

To pull ahead, opponents will have to convince voters that legalized
marijuana will create a greater public safety threat than keeping it

"If the price drops, more people are going to buy it. Low-income
people are going to buy marijuana instead of buying food, which
happens with substance abusers," said Pleasant Hill police Chief Pete
Dunbar, who also speaks for the California Police Chiefs' Association,
one of many law enforcement groups against the measure.

As a result, he said, legalizing marijuana would only encourage the
cycle of theft and violence driven by people who need money to buy
drugs. They argue that the wording of the proposed law would
compromise public safety by gutting restrictions on driving and going
to work while high.

The state district attorneys' group has come out publicly against
Proposition 19, as have many county governments, the editorial boards
of the state's biggest newspapers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who
said the law would make California a "laughingstock."

Under the proposed law, adults 21 and older could possess up to an
ounce of marijuana for personal use and grow gardens up to 25 square

The proposal would allow cities and governments to decide for
themselves whether to tax and allow pot sales. Opponents say a vague,
disorganized patchwork of regulations would ensue and lead to chaos
for police and courts.

There's also the prospect of legal chaos, given the fact that pot will
remain illegal under federal law regardless of what happens. Every
former Drug Enforcement Administration boss is asking President Barack
Obama to sue California if the measure passes on the grounds that
federal law trumps state law - the same argument the administration
used in suing Arizona over its immigration law.

Proposition 19 is the brainchild of Richard Lee, an Oakland medical
marijuana entrepreneur who spent more than $1 million to get the
measure on the ballot. Also the founder of a trade school for aspiring
marijuana growers and retailers, Lee has pushed legal marijuana as a
boon to the state's economy and an important source of tax revenue to
help close the state's massive budget deficit. The Service Employees
International Union, the state's biggest union, has endorsed the
measure as an economic booster.

But analysts have said the economic consequences of a legalized pot
trade are difficult to predict. The state Board of Equalization last
year said a marijuana legalization measure proposed in the state
legislature could have brought California up to $1.4 billion in tax
revenue. On Friday, the agency said Proposition 19, which leaves
marijuana taxing decisions to local governments, contained too many
unknowns for its analysts to estimate how much the measure might generate.

In July, the nonpartisan RAND Drug Policy Research Center forecast
that legalizing marijuana could send prices plunging by as much as 90
percent. Lower prices could mean less tax revenue even as pot
consumption rose, the group said.

The potential price drop has brought unexpected opposition, or at
least suspicion, from rural pot farmers who fear the loss of their
traditional, though legally risky, way of life.

Marijuana has become so crucial to rural economies along the state's
North Coast that even some local government officials are working on
plans for coping with a pot downturn.

The state's medical marijuana economy is thriving as hundreds of
retail dispensaries across California sell pot to hundreds of
thousands of qualified patients. And some medical marijuana supporters
have said Proposition 19 could undermine the credibility of the drug
as a medical treatment.

"I'm just against the whole concept of the recreational use of
marijuana," said Dennis Peron, the San Francisco activist who was the
driving force behind the 1996 ballot measure that legalized medical
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