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October 15, 2010

Lots of law profs sign petition support California's pot proposition

As Ilya Somin notes in this post over at The Volokh Conspiracy, the group Yes on 19 has posted here a petition by law professors in support of the California proposition that would decriminalize marijuana in that state. As Ilya notes six of the Volokh Conspirators are singers, as are many other prominent law professors "including Erwin Chemerinsky, Alan Dershowitz, Paul Butler, and David Friedman (well-known law and economics scholar and son of Milton)."  I have also signed my name to this petition, which includes these notable passages:

As law professors at many law schools who focus on various areas of legal scholarship, we write this open letter to encourage a wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country, and to endorse the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative — Proposition 19 — that will be voted on in November in California.

For decades, our country has pursued a wasteful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition. As with alcohol prohibition, this approach has failed to control marijuana, and left its trade in the hands of an unregulated and increasingly violent black market.  At the same time, marijuana prohibition has clogged California’s courts alone with tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders each year.  Yet marijuana remains as available as ever, with teens reporting that it is easier for them to buy than alcohol across the country....

Especially in the current economic climate, we must evaluate the efficacy of expensive government programs and make responsible decisions about the use of state resources. We find the present policies toward marijuana to be bankrupt, and urge their rethinking.

This country has an example of a path from prohibition.  Alcohol is subject to a regulatory framework that is far safer in every respect than the days of Al Capone.  Just like the State of New York did when it rolled back Prohibition 10 years before the nation as a whole, California should show leadership and restore respect for the law by enacting the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative this November.

There is no reason to believe that this petition is likely to sway many (or even any?) voters, but it is nice to be able to go on record in this way concerning Proposition 19.  An I especially like seeing a notable group of law professors endorsing the important idea that "we must evaluate the efficacy of expensive government programs and make responsible decisions about the use of state resources."

October 15, 2010 at 07:03 AM | Permalink

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Comments

Now I have to reconsider my support for legalization. Anytime lawyer dumbasses support something, one has to wonder, what land pirate, rent seeking, self-interested scheme is behind the support. "Dumbass" is not an epithet, but a lawyer term of art. It refers to the effect of law school on the intellect of people starting out with with IQ's of 300.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 15, 2010 9:02:49 AM

Doug, do you understand that "to encourage a wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country" is one thng and "to endorse the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative" is something entirely different.

Nowhere near enough thought went into the drafting of this particular piece of legislation. Proposition 19 is *not* a simple yes or no vote on legalization versus the status quo. It is a vote on whether to adopt an ill-conceived new legal regime allowing the most pro-pot locality in a region (any place within driving distance) to effectively set the tax rate for the whole region.

A "no" vote is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for the legalization proponents to scrap this proposal and come back with a better one.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 15, 2010 2:17:13 PM

But, Kent, you must recognize that a "no" vote will be spun/interpreted by the politicians as a vote for the status quo, whereas a yes vote will necessarily "encourage a wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country."

I understand and largely share your concern with the specifics of Prop 19. But, tellingly, representatives have never yet --- and unlikely ever will --- overcome status quo biases to propose/engineer an improved pot legalization proposal. A Yes vote on Prop. 19 will likely jump-start more effective regulation and a more honest public policy debate. A no vote will likely allow legislators to say that the big-government-and-big-waste realities of moder pot prohibition is what citizens really want.

I hope that if Prop 19 loses, the legalization folks will refine their efforts and try again. Indeed, this is likely if the vote ends up 52-48 against. But if it is 60-40 against or worse that will be the end of serious pot legalization talk for probably a decade.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 15, 2010 6:59:35 PM

Yes, passing Prop 19 will create many problems - it is however the only way voters can express a desire to change the status of marijuana. Politicians who are mute on the topic will rush to the front of the parade if this measure passes.

It will take years to change the problems and fall out from the war on drugs. This is an awkward adolescent start.

Posted by: beth | Oct 15, 2010 8:13:58 PM

I really don't get these "start the debate" arguments. The debate has been running full throttle the whole time.

Because initiative measures are so difficult to amend, "an awkward adolescent start" should be rejected.

If the people really want legalization and the legislature doesn't pass it, another initiative can be drafted later.

I don't see that happening, though. If it becomes clear that legalization has majority support, the legislature will pass it. Who would stop it? Conservatives have no power in California Legislature.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Oct 16, 2010 12:36:41 AM

I guess I don't see much legislation that is clean and clear. It takes years to know what every word means, ah - that is my personal confusion. Yes on prop 19 may encourage a more rational national discussion and or heaven forbid action.

Marijuana legalization is very much a conservative issue also. Many conservatives believe the drug war should be kicked under the bus.

Posted by: beth | Oct 16, 2010 2:12:05 AM

Kent,

"It is a vote on whether to adopt an ill-conceived new legal regime allowing the most pro-pot locality in a region (any place within driving distance) to effectively set the tax rate for the whole region."

I don't know much about Prop 19. Are you saying that if the most pro-pot locality (i.e. Humboldt) sets a lower tax rate than other near-by localities, and people come to Humboldt to buy pot because it is cheaper there, then this is the main problem with Prop 19?

Posted by: moritz 3l | Oct 16, 2010 4:13:38 PM

Kent, the pot/drug war debate has mostly been among think-tanks and academics because politicians have feared being attacked for an honest debate on these issues. Note how Rand Paul backed off his decriminalization position once the attack dogs started going after him on this front. In addition, because there is not yet much of a legal pot lobby --- unlike the legal gun, booze, and gambling lobbies --- politicians see little up side and lots of down side to having an honest discussion of these issues.

Beth has it exactly right. Prop 19 is an important first step --- and, in many ways, has already achieved a lot in taking the legalization debate to the next level (including making support for medical marijuana seem like a moderate position). But the next step are unlikely if Prop 19 loses 60-40. And next steps are certain if Prop 19 wins 60-40. And, because I am eager to see the next steps, I hope swing voters unhappy with the status quo will vote for change.

Posted by: Doug B. | Oct 17, 2010 11:51:41 AM

"And, because I am eager to see the next steps, I hope swing voters unhappy with the status quo will vote for change."

They WILL vote for change, and they might even vote for this change. But the change they are most chomping to vote for is to oust the big spending, big government, big bailout, big debt and big taxing regime currently being run by Pelosi & Co.

What liberals seem not to understand is that MOST NORMAL ADULTS DON'T SMOKE DOPE AND DON'T CARE ABOUT IT. What they care about is whether their taxes are going up and whether their kids get stuck with a ton of public debt that is certain to drive down the standard of living.

Dope might ring a lot of bells on this site, but this site -- while certainly not without significant value -- is a grossly unrepresentative sample of the public.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 18, 2010 12:08:33 AM

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