Will California Legalize Marijuana via Ballot Initiative?
To my humble readers: I do apologize for my elongated absence from O.O.; however, in case you havenâ€™t heard Congress and the Legislature have been a little busy with health care and such (and, as I predicted back in September, it actually happenedâ€”if not exactly quickly).
Now I’m back to tackle the hottest issue of the day: oil drilling! Nah, kidding. I’m all fired up about weed. It’s time to talk a little “4:20.”
Come November, the voters of California will have an opportunity to vote on the legalization of marijuana . . . with a few restrictions. Since the bulk of the press has seemed to characterize this initiative as either â€śdead on arrival,â€ť or yet another â€ścrazy left-coast idea,” I thought Iâ€™d run through the specifics of the ballot initiative, and provide a little commentary. So, turn on some Grateful Dead and turn on your black light.
Currently, under federal law, the sale or cultivation of marijuana as a controlled substance is illegal. Back in 1996, California voters passed prop 215, which legalized medicinal marijuana, but required â€ślegitimate prescriptionsâ€ť from primary care physicians.
Since then, the issue of medical marijuana has been tried in the courts and debated as a 10th Amendment issue to U.S. Constitution. For those of you not up to par on your amendments, it says, â€śThe powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.â€ť
In this authorâ€™s opinion, this states that if itâ€™s not addressed at the federal level, itâ€™s up to the state to regulate. For the marijuana debate, this raises some serious issues, but weâ€™ll come back to that. First: the facts!
The Proposal ( http://www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2009/090485.aspx), according to Californiaâ€™s non-partisan Legislative Analyst Office says (in summary):
- The measure allows for the growing and cultivation of marijuana, as well as the legal tender (sale) to adults 21 and over;
- Individuals can grown their own stash, I mean cultivate their own reasonable amount of marijuana (amount to be determined by the Legislature);
- Maintains that driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana is still a punishable offense;
- Creates an excise tax of not less than $50 per ounce (and can be inflated by the Legislature), as well as establishes fees for licenses to sell or distribute;
- Bans the use on a school bus, by the operator of a vehicle, vessel, or aircraft, or within 500 feet of a youth shelter or school (minus universities); and
- Repeals prior convictions, wipes records clean (ex post facto laws), and removes inmates from prisons if convicted for any of the crimes committed under this initiative.
Now that you have the facts, grab some doughnuts or a Creamsicle and enjoy some commentary on the proposal, man. Unless, of course, you’re at any of those private marijuana rehab centers and therefore can’t go feed the munchies.
At first glance, it is reasonable and clearly meant to deter individuals from developing abuses. However, there are a few loopholes that I can clearly see.
As any ’80s TV fan knows from the ‘Dukes of Hazard’, brewing your own â€śshineâ€ť is a punishable crime by the tax man. Under current law, beer can be brewed at designated facilities, but spirits and hard alcohol are still controlled substances. In laymanâ€™s terms, you canâ€™t have a moonshine still at home (sorry, Luke, Bo, and Daisy). My question for the authors then is: why let anyone grow their own weed? Think of the tax revenues that will be missed by the regulators.
On that topic, after having absolutely no marijuana experience whatsoever, is an excise tax going to entice the public to pay $50 per ounce before suggested retail price? I guess it depends on the going rate of weed these days, but, again, I have no clue.
Next, there are legal issues here of mass proportion. First off, as I mentioned earlier, we have a case where the Federal Government has made a substance illegal, while the state doesnâ€™t recognize it. Since the closest thing we have to a federal police force is the FBI, does this mean the FBI will take to raiding local parties? Does this mean U.S. Attorneys are going to seek grand juries to convict individuals for doing something they thought was legal by state law? These are just the beginning questions on the 10th Amendment issue raised by such a ballot initiative.
On that note, there are also a lot of public safety concerns that arenâ€™t addressed in the language. First, while it sets parameters for places you can engage, it doesnâ€™t define how you digest marijuana. From a little research on the Internet (and one cool National Geographic special), marijuana can be eaten, vaporized, and smoked. The contents of this initiative seem to surround the smoking of marijuana. Well, what if someone purchases weed-butter products and drops that into the office b-day cake? That could raise some public safety concerns. This is not to mention that the actual act of smoking is placing a toxin in your lungs, so will there be Surgeon General or other label warnings (not to be consumed by minors, etc.)?
Lastly, the issue over releasing prison inmates; well, that presents numerous challenges in itself.
The good news is the revenue and jobs created for the state. While the LAO says it’s hard to predict the income, there is no doubt about it that jobs and taxes will be gained, which is something good for a state like California.
From my perspective, this initiative is well intentioned, but fails to address several concerns that could be examined if this were to go through the regular legislative process. But perhaps the fact it qualified for ballot is proof enough that our society is ready to undertake the responsibility of enjoying recreational marijuana.
Mr. Silence Dogood is the nom de plume of a political insider that, for obvious reasons, chooses to remain anonymous.