Pubdate: Mon, 04 Nov 2013
Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2013 Record Searchlight
Author: John Wildermuth
Note: John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.


Well, the backers of a new effort to legalize marijuana in California
learned at least one thing from the unsuccessful 2010 effort to make
the state safe for dope smokers: It's better not to have a pot dealer
as the face of your initiative.

When the ACLU of California announced last month that it would be
"studying" the questions of legalizing pot before putting an
initiative on the 2016 ballot, it was Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom who was in
front of reporters, talking about how "it is far past time for
Californians to take a serious look at smarter approaches to marijuana."

While you might question the reasoning behind putting someone who has
had an admitted substance abuse problem (drinking, not smoking) at the
head of a panel studying marijuana use, at least as lieutenant
governor Newsom is a guy with plenty of free time.

And an experienced politician is a big step up from Oakland's Richard
Lee, then head of one of the state's biggest medical marijuana
operations, who put up $1.3 million of his own money to put
Proposition 19 on the November 2010 ballot.

Besides, with Allen Hopper of the ACLU talking about how "marijuana
prohibition has harmed communities and families by needlessly
ensnaring hundreds of thousands of people in the overburdened criminal
justice system," it doesn't take a genius to know how this "most
sophisticated effort ever undertaken to seriously study the issue of
pot legalization" is going to turn out.

Even without the benefit of the ACLU's blue-ribbon panel of 16 experts
and their planned 18 months or so of study, I can come up with the
legalization backers' talking points for the 2016 election.

Boy, will California make a bunch of money from this.

Don't worry, there will be really tough restrictions on the sale and
use of the legal weed. Trust us.

Other states already are doing it and the federal government doesn't
much care.

Did I mention how much we'll make off this?

If you think you've heard some of this before, welcome to the world of
medical marijuana, which has been legal in California since the
passage of Proposition 215 in 1996.

Let's talk first about those really tight restrictions.

The medical marijuana measure was sold as the "Compassionate Use Act
of 1996," an effort to provide relief to people suffering from
agonizing pain and debilitating illness. Think cancer, glaucoma and

In the years since, however, a cottage industry has sprung up,
consisting of storefront Dr. Feelgoods who are more than happy to
provide a pot card to anyone who's ever had a hangnail. If there's
anyone in California 18 or older who hasn't been able to get that
medical marijuana approval, he's not really trying. Or the check
didn't clear.

As for the federal question, just ask Lee how that worked out. In
2012, Lee's home and businesses were raided by federal agents, who
seized - and kept - $180,000 they found on the premises.

And for all the recent make-nice talk from the feds about how there
won't be any trouble in Colorado and Washington, which have both
passed legalization measures, what one president giveth the next one
can taketh away. Possession and sale of marijuana remain a federal
crime and what's policy today might not be policy tomorrow.

Then there's the money question.

Supporters say if California taxes and regulates the sale of
marijuana, it will bring in billions in new revenues, allow the state
to lower taxes, provide new programs for its citizens and open a new
Golden Age of Progress. Or something.

But that's an argument that already was used with Indian casinos, with
at best mixed results. Sure, California has collected cash from those
many new banks of slot machines, but at what cost to

Once the state begins making policy decisions based largely - or
solely - on the amount of revenue it will bring in, where does it
stop? If something is a bad idea now, does it become a good idea
because the state can make some money from it?

A new pot legalization measure will have the virtue of honesty,
something the slo-mo, wink-and-a-nod legalization planned by medical
marijuana advocates never did. It will be an upfront bid to allow the
recreational use of marijuana in the state and California voters will
be able to make an up or down choice on it.

But it's a decision that should be an informed choice by voters, with
the pros and cons of legalization clearly spelled out. Don't expect
that sort of reasoned approach from the ACLU, which appears to have
found the result it wants even before collecting the evidence.
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