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.
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One side, which includes marijuana advocates and some law enforcement associations, religious figures, and unions, says the 40-year drug war is a failure. Passage of Prop. 19 will be a relief for the state, which arrested nearly 80,000 on marijuana charges in 2009, they say.Skip to next paragraph
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"Like an increasing number of law enforcers, I have learned that most bad things about marijuana – especially the violence made inevitable by an obscenely profitable black market – are caused by the prohibition, not by the plant," says Joseph McNamara, a former police chief of San Jose, Calif.
The other side, which includes the California Chamber of Commerce, the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), and the California Police Chiefs Association, says Prop. 19 is a poorly written initiative that will degrade society and won't do what proponents say it will. It will also introduce clashes with federal law, they say, which could cost school districts federal funding.
"The average voter has been told this will produce over $1 billion in revenue for the state, but nothing could be further from the truth," says Mr. Raney. "The law as written leaves it up to cities and localities to each come up with their own regulation and taxing scheme, which means we will have up to 478 different blueprints. It's a public-policy disaster."
California's crippled economy is providing traction for nonpartisan findings that Prop. 19 would have tax and job benefits. The California State Board of Equalization estimates that Prop. 19 could generate $1.4 billion in annual tax revenue for local governments, and create between 60,000 and 100,000 jobs.
A 2009 study by California NORML, an organization dedicated to liberalizing the state's marijuana laws, says legalization would save more than $250 million in costs for the arrest, prosecution, trial, and imprisonment of marijuana offenders. The study also predicts that economic activity generated by legal marijuana could total $12 billion to $18 billion.
"Amsterdam-style coffeehouses would generate jobs and tourism. If the marijuana industry were just one-third the size of the wine industry, it would generate 50,000 jobs and $1.4 billion in wages," says the study.
Citizens opposed to Prop. 19 decry the effect it would have on society. Many envision full-scale farms growing marijuana as a cash crop, or convenience stores offering "morning toke" booths alongside coffee and doughnuts. Some are concerned about the proliferation of head shops frequented by low-life "stoners" and neighbors with pot-growing tents in the backyard. And some can already picture billboards that glamorize pot smoking, the way they do drinking, going up near schools and churches.
"Cicero once said that democracy works well when the citizens have virtue. Well, I don't call legalizing dope having virtue," says retired Menlo Park high school football coach Ray Solari. "They said legalizing gambling would help the schools, and now look what we have. This will only lead to more problems."