One of the most important measures on the California ballot this November is Proposition 19, which would legalize and regulate the possession and sale of marijuana.
Like alcohol prohibition in the 1920s, the criminal prohibition of marijuana has failed miserably. Our laws have created a massive underground black market that generates billions of dollars a year for violent street gangs and international drug cartels. The state spends enormous sums of money arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating not only violent criminals, but average citizens who are simply caught with the plant in their possession. It’s time for change.
Despite the obvious failure of prohibition, there is a fair amount of opposition to legalization. It’s important to recognize from the outset that the proposition isn’t perfect. It doesn’t address all the potential issues that legalization would create. However, these problems pale in comparison to those created by prohibition.
One of the biggest arguments opponents use is that employers will no longer be able to enforce drug-free workplaces if marijuana is legal, which would make many workplaces unsafe and could result in the loss of large amounts of federal funding.
This argument is bogus. Whether or not marijuana is legal, it is already legal for employers to drug test their employees. In the same way that an employer can fire a worker who shows up drunk to work, an employer would be allowed to fire a worker who shows up high.
Some opponents of legalization argue that since marijuana will still be illegal federally, Prop 19 will be void. It is true that if Prop 19 passes, state law will conflict with federal law. It’ll be imperative that the Obama administration reassess its enforcement priorities, because federal agents will still have the authority under federal law to arrest and prosecute people for cultivating, possessing or selling marijuana. State and local law enforcement officers, however, will no longer have this authority.
One issue the proposition doesn’t address is the technical question of determining when someone is “under the influence.” This will be a question the legislature will have to answer if Prop 19 passes, but it’s not a reason to vote no.
Proponents of legalization claim that the state could raise $1.4 billion per year in tax revenue. This number is just an estimate. It’s difficult to determine how big the market will be until the drug is actually legal. Opponents have a point that some of this money will have to be used to regulate the new market. The real benefit, however, comes from savings in reduced prison and law enforcement costs.
Too often, what opponents fail to recognize is that marijuana is already out there. People already grow, sell and use it. Prop 19 will not change this. What it will do is regulate these activities and give the state – not criminals – control of the market.