Pubdate: Sun, 24 Oct 2010
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano


Seventy-eight years ago this November, Californians overwhelmingly 
voted to repeal a morally, socially, and economically failed public 
policy -- alcohol prohibition. Voters did not wait for the federal 
government to act; they took matters into their own hands.

On Nov. 2, California voters have an opportunity to repeat history 
and repeal an equally bankrupt public policy -- marijuana prohibition.

California lawmakers criminalized the possession and cultivation of 
marijuana in 1913, some 24 years before Congress enacted similar 
prohibitions federally. Yet today some 3.3 million Californians 
acknowledge using pot regularly, and the Golden State stands alone as 
the largest domestic producer of the crop. Self-evidently, marijuana 
is here to stay. The question is: What is the most pragmatic and 
effective way to deal with this reality?

Proposition 19 -- which legalizes the adult possession of limited 
quantities of marijuana in private, and allows local governments to 
regulate its commercial production and retail distribution -- offers 
voters a sound alternative to the inflexible and failed strategies of 
the past. The measure acknowledges that adults should not be legally 
punished for their private use of a substance that is objectively 
safer than alcohol or tobacco, while simultaneously enacting common 
sense controls regarding who can legally consume it, distribute it, 
and produce it.

Critics of Prop. 19, such as the editorial board of the Times-Herald 
("Just say 'no' to faulty Prop. 19," Oct. 10), express concerns that 
passage of this initiative will lead to increased marijuana use and 
send a mixed message to children. Both arguments are specious at best.

Virtually any Californian who wishes to obtain or consume marijuana 
can already do so, and it is unlikely that adults who presently 
abstain from pot will cease doing so simply because certain 
restrictions on its prohibition are lifted. Further, it must be 
acknowledged that unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing 
lethal overdose, is relatively nontoxic to healthy cells and organs, 
and its use is not typically associated with violent, aggressive, or 
reckless behavior. Why then are we so worried about adults consuming 
it in the privacy of their own home?

The Times-Herald's concerns regarding marijuana and youth are also 
not persuasive. Young people already report that they have easier 
access to illicit marijuana than they do legal beer or cigarettes. 
Why? It is because the production and sale of these latter products 
are regulated and legally limited to a specific age group. As a 
result teen use of cigarettes, for example, has fallen to its lowest 
levels in decades while, conversely, young people's use of cannabis 
is rising. In short, it's legalization, regulation, and public 
education -- coupled with the enforcement of age restrictions -- that 
most effectively keep mind-altering substances out of the hands of children.

Further, a regulated system of cannabis legalization will make it 
easier, not harder, for parents and educators to rationally and 
persuasively discuss this subject with young people. Many parents who 
may have tried pot during their youth (or who continue to use it 
occasionally) will no longer perceive societal pressures to lie to 
their children about their own behaviors. Rather, just as many 
parents presently speak to their children openly about their use of 
alcohol -- instructing them that booze may be appropriate for adults 
in moderation, but that it remains inappropriate for young people -- 
legalization will empower adults to talk objectively and rationally 
to their kids about marijuana.

The Bottom line? For nearly 100 years in California the criminal 
prohibition of marijuana has fueled an underground, unregulated, 
black market economy that empowers criminal entrepreneurs while 
having no tangible effect on the public's access to pot or their use 
of it. A "yes" vote on Prop. 19 is a first step toward allowing 
lawmakers and regulators to seize control of this illegal market and 
turn it over to licensed business. A "no" vote continues to abdicate 
command of this market to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

The choice is up to us.

Paul Armentano


Editor's note: The author is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is 
Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009), 
and co-chairs the public health steering committee for Prop. 19.
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