« "Judge Calls Electronic Monitoring Excessive Bail in Child Pornography Case" | Main | Is it true that nobody's view on the death penalty can be influenced by its costs? »

March 26, 2010

Should and will California's voters legalize marijuana in that state this November?

We all know all the reasons 2010 is shaping up to be an exciting election year, but there is now no "race" I will be watching more closely this fall than the debate over the newly-approved California ballot initiative about legalizing marijuana.   This new New York Times piece, which is headlined, "Legal-Marijuana Advocates Focus on a New Green," provides some of the essential backstory:

Perhaps only in California could a group of marijuana smokers call themselves fiscal realists. And yet, faced with a $20 billion deficit, strained state services and regular legislative paralysis, voters in California are now set to consider a single-word solution to help ease some of the state’s money troubles: legalize.

On Wednesday, the California secretary of state certified a November vote on a ballot measure that would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana, a plan that advocates say could raise $1.4 billion and save precious law enforcement and prison resources.

Indeed, unlike previous efforts at legalization — including a failed 1972 measure in California — the 2010 campaign will not dwell on assertions of marijuana’s harmlessness or its social acceptance, but rather on cold cash. “We need the tax money,” said Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University, a trade school for marijuana growers, in Oakland, who backed the ballot measure’s successful petition drive. “Second, we need the tax savings on police and law enforcement, and have that law enforcement directed towards real crime.”...

The law would permit licensed retailers to sell up to one ounce at a time. Those sales would be a new source of sales tax revenue for the state. Opponents, however, scoff at the notion that legalizing marijuana could somehow help with the state’s woes. They tick off a list of social ills — including tardiness and absenteeism in the workplace — that such an act would contribute to.

“We just don’t think any good is going to come from this,” said John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers Association, whose 3,800 members include police chiefs and sheriffs. “It’s not going to better society. It’s going to denigrate it.”

The question of legalization, which a 2009 Field Poll showed 56 percent of Californians supporting, will undoubtedly color the state race for governor. The two major Republican candidates — the former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman and the insurance commissioner, Steve Poizner — have said they oppose the bill. Jerry Brown, the Democratic attorney general who is also running for governor, opposes the idea as well, saying it violates federal law. And while the Obama administration has signaled that it will tolerate medical marijuana users who abide the law in the 14 states where it is legal, a law authorizing personal use would conflict with federal law.

Supporters of the bill say the proposal’s language would allow cities or local governments to opt out, likely creating “dry counties” in some parts of the state. The proposed law would allow only those over 21 to buy, and would ban smoking marijuana in public or around minors. Stephen Gutwillig, the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based group that plans to raise money in favor of the measure, said he expected “a conservative implementation,” if passed....

But Dan Newman, a San Francisco-based strategist for the ballot measure, said he expected broad, bipartisan support for the bill, especially among those Californians worried about the recession. “Voters’ No. 1 concern right now is the budget and the economy,” Mr. Newman said, “which makes them look particularly favorable at something that will bring in more than $1 billion a year.” Opponents, however, question that figure — which is based on a 2009 report from the Board of Equalization, which oversees taxes in the state — and argue that whatever income is brought in will be spent dealing with more marijuana-related crimes.

March 26, 2010 at 01:56 PM | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Should and will California's voters legalize marijuana in that state this November?:


Doug's opening line is, "We all know all the reasons 2010 is shaping up to be an exciting election year..."

Truer words were never spoken.

The main reason it's shaping up to be an exciting election can be summarized in two words.

Buyers' remorse.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2010 3:39:39 PM

This bill will win, and it probably won't even be close. Hopefully, this will not be the last major, crippling loss the drug warriors must contend with; I anticipate a series of initiatives will follow CA's, with states as diverse as Montana, Michigan, Oregon and Colorado following CA's example.

When MI's medicinal marijuana initiative passed, it passed in *every* county. Even the stridently anti-gay "marriage amendment" didn't pass in every county in 2004; even voters in the socially conservative counties in the West side of the state supported medicinal marijuana. The writing is on the wall, and I expect Polis or someone else following the debate to introduce federal legislation within the next two years. My only fear is that it will end with marijuana; it isn't any more rational to prohibit LSD, ecstasy, etc.

Posted by: Alec | Mar 26, 2010 5:14:48 PM

Alec --

Thank you for your explanation that the rationale supporting the proposal to legalize marijuana applies equally to other drugs such as LSD and Ecstasy (and, I would take it, meth, herion and crack).

I have been saying for years that the movement to legalize marijuana is the cat's paw of the push to legalize everything, and now we have confirmation of this from someone with no reason to be deceitful, and who is, to the contrary, being refreshingly candid.

Thank you.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 26, 2010 5:27:03 PM


No problem, although my perspective is in the minority. While I do not use recreational drugs, I don't believe they should be prohibited. Thank you for the implicit admission that all psychoactive substances are the same; using your rationale, we should immediately recriminalize alcohol. Additionally, I fear the consequences of failing to restrict access to certain products that are not currently scheduled or, if they are, remain readily available in pharmacies and garden supply stores. Specifically, I would like you to propose criminalization of, inter alia, Tylenol PM, pseudoephedrine and morning glory seeds (which contain a close cousin and precursor of LSD, lysergic acid amide). Once these steps have been completed, I will take the drug warriors seriously. Maybe.

Posted by: Alec | Mar 26, 2010 5:33:46 PM

Alec --

1. Your perspective might be in the minority, but it's the only one that's intellectually defensible. The principal theory of legalization is that it is the individual's right to decide for himself what to put into his own body. If that is so, there is no justification for the government's banning ANYTHING, since it is likewise up to the individual to decide for himself which drugs are dangerous and which aren't.

2. Let me ask you this: Do you think it should remain a crime to sell meth to a 16 year-old?

If your answer is no, that too should be legal, fine. I'll take that answer and run with it.

If your answer is yes, it should remain illegal, then you necessarily acknowledge that SOME criminal sanctions for drugs are OK, and the debate turns to where the line should be drawn, not whether there should be a line.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Mar 27, 2010 12:24:40 AM

Yes, and I also support age of consent laws and the holding of Lawrence v. Texas, DUI/OUIL laws as well as the repeal of prohibition. Strangely, I never thought that opposing sale of intoxicants to minors was really about drugs at all, but rather the age of majority. If that is the kind of line drawing you are talking about, guilty as charged.

Posted by: Alec | Mar 30, 2010 11:15:10 AM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB