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How will California change if voters make marijuana legal?

Polls show California voters may well approve Proposition 19, which would make marijuana legal in the state. Costs and benefits are hotly debated by both sides.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / October 1, 2010

Pandy Arrieta, an intern at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., tended marijuana plants in a classroom Sept. 23. The for-profit educational facility, which is not accredited, was founded in 2007 to help open the way for a marijuana industry.

Tony Avelar/The Christian Science Monitor


Oakland, Calif.

In a street-level flat of offices off a downtown sidewalk here, computers hum, volunteers make calls, and James Rigdon explains why Proposition 19California's ballot initiative to legalize marijuana – should pass.

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"The decades-long war on drugs has failed," says the field director of the Yes on 19 campaign. "It's still easier for a kid to get his hands on a joint than to get a beer or a cigarette. Sixty percent of drug cartels' money comes from marijuana sales. We need to take that away."

Several blocks away, Livina Hedgerow, kneeling in her garden, says Prop. 19 is a bad idea.

"This is just what we don't need," says the retired teacher. "Another legal drug for kids to get messed up on. It will lead them to worse drugs. It's just wrong."

The two comments frame the debate swirling in California over Prop. 19 and what the state would look like if voters make it the first in the nation to legalize, regulate, and tax the sale of marijuana.

Opinion polls show Yes on 19 holding the advantage with a little more than a month to go before the Nov. 2 election. Among likely voters, 47 percent support the measure, while 37 percent are opposed, according to a survey released Sept. 15 by Public Policy Polling. The poll's margin of error is 3.9 percent. Back on July 5, a Field Poll of likely voters had the opposition leading, 48 percent to 44.

As Election Day nears, the propaganda war is intensifying, with the two sides expecting that whatever happens in California is likely to be replicated elsewhere, eventually.

"The whole country and world are watching," says Kim Raney, vice president of the California Police Chiefs Association, which has come out against Prop. 19. "That's why it's absolutely critical that the public here have a serious discussion based on the facts without spin."

Fundraising surrounding the ballot measure has been relatively modest, says Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation. Prop. 19 proponents have raised almost $2 million, while opponents have brought in $95,100, she says. Moreover, about $1.3 million was spent to qualify the measure for the ballot. "This is a very low-budget campaign so far," says Ms. Alexander.

As described on voters' ballots, Proposition 19, known formally as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, "changes California law to legalize marijuana and allow it to be regulated and taxed." The law would:

•Make it legal for people 21 and older to carry up to an ounce of marijuana, and to grow and transport it for personal use.

•Prohibit people from smoking marijuana in public, on school grounds, or while minors are present.

•Allow local governments to regulate the cultivation or sale of marijuana and set their own fees or taxes.

•Prevent people from being punished, fined, or discriminated against for lawfully using marijuana.