Pubdate: Mon, 25 Oct 2010
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: AA1, continued on page AA4
Copyright: 2010 Los Angeles Times
Author: John Hoeffel
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)

Elections 2010


Proposition 19 Raises a Lot of Questions About Logistics, Legality 
and Tax Revenues.

Vote yes on Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana, and 
the unofficial state weed and largest cash crop will be controlled 
like alcohol, police will focus on serious crimes and California will 
get billions of dollars in new taxes. That's the pitch proponents make.

"It's a jumbled legal nightmare," opponents retort, disputing those 
claims and insisting that the measure would lead to stoned nurses in 
hospitals, drugged motorists on the road and more high teenagers.

Proposition 19, at three pages in the official voter information 
guide, is neither the longest nor the shortest initiative on the Nov. 
2 ballot, but it would propel the state into unknown territory.

What is clear is that after midnight on election day, if the 
initiative has passed and you are at least 21 years old, you will be 
allowed under state law to smoke a joint in your home or other 
private place when no kids are around, keep a stash of up to an ounce 
and grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana plants.

That change, however, would not protect you from U.S. Drug 
Enforcement Administration agents, who could still enforce the 
federal Controlled Substances Act. And the new law could face a legal 
challenge, although the courts have ruled that states can 
decriminalize marijuana.

Beyond that, the potential effects of Proposition 19 become much 
murkier. The initiative would make California the first state to 
allow commercial cultivation and retail sales.

The measure's opponents say talk of legal sales and tax revenues is 
fanciful because the federal government wouldn't stand for it. U.S. 
Atty. Gen. Eric Holder promised this month to "vigorously enforce" 
federal drug laws, regardless of what California voters do. And 
former federal drug officials say it's unlikely any taxes would be 
paid because that would be admitting to a criminal violation.

But California's voters are not averse to casting their state into 
uncertainty. "It's part of California's culture," said Darry Sragow, 
a former political consultant who now teaches political science at 
USC. "You've got to be a bit adventurous to get all the way here. 
You've got to be a little bit of a risk taker."

When it comes to marijuana, voters were also warned in 1996 that 
Proposition 215, which allowed the drug to be used for medical 
reasons, would lead to chaos. The measure passed comfortably and has 
led to years of raids, trials and court battles, but the state's 
voters strongly support it.

About half of them now consistently tell pollsters they want to 
legalize marijuana, which opponents tacitly acknowledge by aiming 
their arguments not at legalization but at this particular 
initiative, ridiculing it as flawed. The argument signed by Sen. 
Dianne Feinstein in the voter guide begins: "Even if you support 
legalization of recreational marijuana, you should vote 'No' on 
Proposition 19."

Proponents say that prohibition has failed and that it's time for "a 
common sense approach to control marijuana," as retired San Jose 
Police Chief Joseph D. McNamara and others say in their voter-guide argument.

Opponents, backed by law enforcement organizations and the California 
Chamber of Commerce, challenge almost every claim made by proponents, 
starting with the title: The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act 
of 2010. They contend it would do no such thing.

The initiative leaves the issue of whether to allow legal sales up to 
the state's 481 cities and 58 counties, a wet-dry approach that 
mirrors how the state handles medical marijuana. But that makes it 
impossible to determine how carefully legal marijuana would be controlled.

If the past is any guide, most cities and counties would have nothing 
to do with it. Only 37 cities and 10 counties allow medical marijuana 
dispensaries, according to Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy 
group. In some places, notably Los Angeles, city officials lost 
control over them.

Oakland, the political hub of the state's marijuana legalization 
movement, would almost certainly be the first place to wrestle with 
regulations. A local initiative passed six years ago requires the 
city to allow sales "as soon as possible under California law."

San Francisco and Santa Cruz have passed legislation calling on the 
state to allow legal sales. And Oakland, Humboldt County, Berkeley 
and West Hollywood have endorsed Proposition 19.

"I think we will proceed cautiously," said West Hollywood Councilman 
John Duran, who noted that the city helped set up one of the state's 
first cannabis clubs, which closed in 2001 after a DEA raid. "We'd 
have to decide once again if this little city is ready to take on the 
United States. We did it before."

This city-county approach also makes it anyone's guess how much might 
be raised in tax revenues. Proposition 19 promises billions of 
dollars, and proponents cite a figure of $1.4 billion, but that is an 
estimate for a legislative bill that would legalize pot sales statewide.

The state's nonpartisan legislative analyst concluded that, if a 
commercial marijuana industry were to emerge statewide, tax revenues 
could reach hundreds of millions a year. An analysis by the 
libertarian Cato Institute, which looked at taxing marijuana like 
tobacco, put it at $352 million, less than 2% of California's 
$19-billion budget shortfall.

Budget-crunched local governments increasingly see marijuana as a new 
revenue source. Ten cities, including San Jose, Sacramento and 
Stockton, are asking voters to approve taxes on marijuana, including 
higher levies on marijuana sold for recreational use. Long Beach is 
proposing to tax non-medical marijuana at 15%. These taxes, of 
course, could be collected only if these city councils decided to 
ignore Holder's threats and pass regulations for legal sales.

Oakland was the first California city to tax medical marijuana, and 
it has a measure on next month's ballot to raise that tax and add one 
for non-medical marijuana. If the new tax is passed, the city's four 
dispensaries, which anticipate $40 million in sales this year, would 
pay $2 million in taxes.

If Proposition 19 passes, and Oakland approves four more 
dispensaries, four 60,000-square-foot cultivation facilities and 
allows pot sales to adults, city officials estimate that pot tax 
revenues could hit $13 million. That's almost enough to rehire the 80 
police officers it laid off this year.

"There's a lot of opportunity for meeting a lot of needs," said David 
McPherson, a former police officer who is Oakland's tax 
administrator. "Like a lot of other cities, we're hurting."

The initiative promises to "implement a legal regulatory framework" 
that would "put dangerous underground street dealers out of business" 
and keep children from getting marijuana. The measure does include 
some new regulations, such as prohibiting use when minors are 
present, but would not establish rules to control marijuana like 
alcohol, which is subject to statewide regulation and enforcement.

What Proposition 19 would do, opponents say, is increase use, leading 
to more drugged drivers and to more children trying it. The measure's 
supporters scoff, saying marijuana is already so easy to get in 
California and so socially acceptable that anyone who wants to smoke 
is already doing it.

Researchers at Rand Corp., a nonpartisan research institute in Santa 
Monica, concluded that use would increase, but they could not say by 
how much. "It's going to change the stigma for some people, but more 
importantly, it's going to create availability," said Beau Kilmer, 
co-director of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center.

Rand also concluded that legal pot, if widely available, would be so 
cheap, it could squeeze Mexican cartels from the California 
marketplace - but would barely dent their overall drug business. The 
researchers said nothing about whether it would dislodge the drug 
gangs from the state's forest lands.

Proponents argue that the state would save millions of dollars on 
policing marijuana crimes. If cultivation and sales were legal, the 
legislative analyst estimated potential savings could reach tens of 
millions by reducing the number of marijuana offenders in prisons and 
jails. The Cato Institute analysis estimated California spends $960 
million a year to enforce its marijuana laws.

Misdemeanor arrests for possessing an ounce or less of marijuana have 
risen steadily. Last year, there were 61,164 arrests, a quarter more 
than a decade earlier. Law enforcement officials say they devote few 
resources to chasing pot smokers and many of these charges stem from 
arrests for more serious crimes.

The state Chamber of Commerce says the initiative would allow smoking 
pot at work and would prevent employers from acting against a worker 
who is high unless the worker causes an accident. Proponents say the 
initiative would not change state laws that protect an employer's 
rights in the workplace.

This dispute, like others raised by the initiative, would almost 
certainly be settled in court.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake