One Minute Debate

Should California legalize pot?

California's Proposition 19 is generating debate across the country.

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    Supporters of Proposition 19 hold up signs in Irvine, Calif., Aug. 22, 2010, to rally support for the initiative, which would legalize marijuana in the state.
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During this midterm election season, the Monitor will feature a series of "one-minute debates" on top political issues.

Yes: State regulation of adult use makes sense

California voters this November will decide on Proposition 19, which seeks to control and regulate the adult use of marijuana. Critics claim that cannabis is not harmless. Yet it is precisely because marijuana is a psychoactive substance that it ought to be legalized and controlled accordingly.

After all, we don’t tax and regulate alcohol – which poses far greater risks – because it’s innocuous. We do so because we recognize that booze temporarily alters mood and behavior and thus should be regulated appropriately, along with controls regarding who can legally produce it, distribute it, consume it, and under what circumstances its use is lawfully permitted. These same principles ought to apply to cannabis.

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Surveys show that young people have easier access to illegal marijuana than they have to alcohol or cigarettes. Why? Because the production and sale of these latter products are regulated and legally limited to adults. As a result, teen use of cigarettes has fallen to its lowest levels in decades, while young people’s use of cannabis is rising. In short, it’s legalization, regulation, and public education – coupled with the enforcement of age restrictions – that most effectively keep mind-altering substances out of the hands of children. Despite more than 70 years of federal prohibition, marijuana is here to stay. It’s time to acknowledge this reality, cease ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises, and put it in the hands of licensed businesses.

Paul Armentano, deputy director, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

No: legalization means more costs

Proposition 19 will not solve California’s economic woes. It does not require the state to impose a tax on marijuana; it only allows local governments to determine if and how they will tax pot, although the entire state risks increased billions in health and social expenditures resulting from increased use.

We have already seen and paid for the effects that tobacco and alcohol have had on society. If we learn from past experiences, we can conclude that marijuana would follow down the same path.

Legalizing marijuana use would substantially increase its already formidable costs to society. That’s because the initiative would allow individuals to possess up to about 120 joints and cultivate 25 square feet of plants, capable of yielding up to 240,000 joints.

This initiative will lead to Amsterdam-style pot cafes and more grow houses. Black market sales would continue and aggressively target children, while tax evasion would be inevitable since there is no formal way to regulate this drug, resulting in very little government revenue. Supporters of drug legalization seek to protect the selfish, perceived rights of the minority – drug users who want the freedom to use their drugs of choice – at the peril of the majority.

Legalization would also create an influx in drugged-driving fatalities, more deteriorated neighborhoods, more divorce, more domestic violence, more child abuse, and more addiction!

– Calvina Fay, executive director, Drug Free America Foundation, Inc

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