California voters should reject legalizing marijuana
Proposition 19 would make California the first state to fully legalize marijuana. Supporters sound persuasive with talk about weakening Mexican drug cartels and helping state revenues with taxes on pot. But their arguments don't hold up.
California voters are considering a ballot measure that would make their state the first jurisdiction in the nation – and the world – to fully legalize marijuana.Skip to next paragraph
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This is not a “first” that voters should support.
Proposition 19 would legalize marijuana for recreational use for people ages 21 and older. It would also allow local governments to tax and regulate commercial production and distribution – not just retail sale, as in the Netherlands.
Proponents argue that treating pot like alcohol and tobacco will increase revenues for the cash-strapped state and decrease violence and the profits of the Mexican drug cartels. All along, supporters of legalization have maintained that pot is harmless.
Whether Californians are buying this sales pitch is unclear. A September Field poll finds that 49 percent of likely voters say they’re inclined to support Proposition 19 and legalization, while 42 percent are inclined to oppose it. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Oct. 5 shows the opposite: 53 percent of voters are against it.
Evidence, reason, and values should dissuade people from the legalization pipe dream. Here’s a look at why the arguments of the well-funded “pro” side don’t hold up:
Not much impact on drug cartels. Legalizing marijuana in California “would not appreciably influence the Mexican drug trafficking organizations and the related violence,” according to Beau Kilmer, lead author of a report released this month by the RAND Corporation.
This nonprofit research organization has published independent studies this year that look at the potential effects of legalizing pot in California.
RAND found that marijuana exports to the United States do not account for 60 percent of drug cartel revenues from exports, as is often reported. Rather, the cartels get only 15 to 26 percent of their money from pot trafficked to the US.
If California, which accounts for one-seventh of pot use nationwide, goes legal, total drug export revenues for the cartels will drop by “perhaps 2 to 4 percent.” The big money – and the big violence – is in harder drugs.
RAND did acknowledge an exception. If high-potency California marijuana is smuggled to other states at low prices, it could seriously eat into the cartels’ take – cutting out roughly 20 percent of total export drug money.