Pubdate: Tue, 19 Oct 2010
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Orange County Register
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


Given that it was written partially in response to opinion polls, 
rather than as an exercise in pure theory, Proposition 19, which 
would legalize the possession and use of up an ounce of marijuana 
(cannabis) for adult Californians, contains provisions that an 
advocate of pure devotion to liberty might not have included. Some of 
these provisions have raised questions, some justified and some 
exaggerated out of any relation to reality. We thought it appropriate 
to deal with some of these issues, chiefly the reasons for having a 
"local option" for sales and cultivation and the possible implication 
this proposal would have on the ability of employers to discipline 
people who are impaired at work due to cannabis use, and of police to 
handle drivers similarly impaired.

Prop. 19 would establish a statewide policy, to wit: adults may 
possess up to an ounce of cannabis and may cultivate a patch of 
plants amounting to 25 square feet. But it contemplates that there 
will be a demand to purchase cannabis, as well, so it allows 
localities to develop their own policies for regulating cultivation 
and sales (and collecting taxes on them) or to prohibit any sales or 
cultivation beyond the 25-square-foot limit.

Critics argue that it may be too much to ask of city councils to 
develop sensible regulations in an unfamiliar area. There is also a 
fear that there will be so much variance from city to city that it 
will be just too confusing for law enforcement officials, and some 
marijuana users might get caught in compromising situations as they 
travel from city to city.

The local option plan grew out of the experience of so many cities at 
implementing (or not implementing) medical marijuana policies in 
response to Prop. 215 in 1996. It became obvious that some city 
governments would prefer to have no medical marijuana dispensaries, 
while others seemed to welcome them, or at least to accommodate their 
regulations to the policies endorsed by voters. Prop. 19 allows local 
jurisdictions to make that choice.

"It's funny," Joseph McNamara, a Hoover Institution research fellow 
and former police chief of San Jose, told us. "When I was a police 
chief, local officials complained constantly about mandates, most of 
them unfunded, from Sacramento. Now many of these same people object 
to a proposition without a mandate on local government. If it had 
included a mandate the outcry would have been louder. I suspect it's 
a matter of stretching to find a reason to oppose Prop. 19."

In fact, different cities have different policies toward the sale of 
liquor (within the framework of state laws), different zoning 
regulations, and different policies on a wide range of issues. 
Developing regulations that respond to local concerns within the 
framework of state and federal laws is what city councils and other 
arms of government are supposed to do. The beauty of local option is 
that the experience of different cities will serve as a laboratory of 
policy alternatives from which policy students and other city 
councils can learn what works and what doesn't.

As for employment policies, Prop. 19 specifically states that "the 
existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually 
impairs job performance shall not be affected." However, that clause 
is preceded by one that says "No person shall be punished, fined or 
discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for 
lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this Act." Critics have 
contended that this creates a "protected class" of marijuana smokers 
who are not subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

This is an incorrect inference. Prop. 19 reinforces laws against 
driving while impaired, makes it illegal to smoke in front of minors, 
and makes it illegal to smoke in public places. Cannabis users under 
Prop. 19 will be subject to all the constraints imposed on other 
citizens and some unique to them.

The reason for prohibiting discrimination against cannabis users is 
simple. Existing testing methods can detect metabolites of 
cannabinoids for up to a month after cannabis use - long after any 
intoxication or impairment has disappeared. Employers can't fire an 
employee for getting drunk on Saturday night so long as he or she 
shows up Monday able to perform satisfactorily. A similar policy 
should apply to marijuana and will apply if Prop. 19 passes.

A similar policy will apply to driving while impaired. A complication 
is that there is no simple roadside test for marijuana use. The 
responsibility of police will be to look for signs of impairment, as 
is the case now.

Legalizing marijuana use for adults is a significant step away from 
nanny-state policies and all the crime, corruption and violence that 
accompany marijuana prohibition, so some caution about such an 
important move is understandable. But the impact on employment 
polices, driving laws and the responsibilities of local government 
are not sufficient to justify rejection of this proposal.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake