Thursday, October 14, 2010

Marijuana is a hot topic in California

As California's economy was going up in smoke, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in May of 2009 that it was time to study the possibility of legalizing and taxing marijuana. And now, Proposition 19 is on the California ballot. Interestingly, Schwarzenegger now opposes Proposition 19, calling it "deeply flawed" and claiming that its potential for generating tax revenue has been overstated.

When President Obama was asked last year about the subject, he wasn't interested. "No, I don't think that is a good strategy to grow our economy," he said at the time. His current strategy is to avoid discussing the issue altogether. But Schwarzenegger sparked the debate in California, and the nation joined in. A Zogby poll, commissioned in May of 2009 by the conservative O'Leary Report, showed that 52% of Americans favor legalization of marijuana, with only 37% opposed. The statistics are similar in California to the national numbers and have stayed about the same since that time.

Legalizing marijuana not only allows for the regulation and taxation of marijuana, similar to cigarettes and alcohol, but it removes the criminal element, freeing up our legal system to deal with actual criminals. Medical marijuana is already available in California. The U.S. Supreme Court on May 18th 2009, upheld the right of states to implement and administer their own medical marijuana laws, affirming the long held position that federal law does not preempt state medical marijuana laws.

Passage of Proposition 19 would make it legal under state law for anyone over 21 years old to possess marijuana, and the federal laws would probably again be trumped by state law. The federal government has indicated they may challenge the law if it passes, but the feds will most likely lose out to the will of the people and move on to more important things. The legal battle over medical marijuana was a win for the state, after all.

Marijuana hasn't always been illegal. Because of sensationalistic stories of murder and mayhem associated with marijuana use, it was criminalized federally in 1937 by the newly formed Bureau of Narcotics. Up until that time it had been used as a household drug treating headaches, toothaches, depression, menstrual cramps and of course just plain stress, and drug companies were working on developing a stronger strain. In 1938, the mayor of New York, Fiorello LaGuardia, who it was rumored would light up a joint before important meetings, formed a committee to study the actual effects of marijuana. It found, despite the governments claims, that there was no scientific reason to criminalize marijuana. The study found that it did not cause insanity or act as a gateway drug. It did not cause people to go on killing sprees, and it did not cause other types of deviant criminal behavior.

Like any substance, the potential for abuse is there, but studies have shown that not only is marijuana safer than most drugs, users don't get symptoms similar to what some have called "Starbucks head," commonly known as headaches associated with caffeine withdrawal.

Further studies have shown that marijuana use actually cuts down on crime, even when used by criminals, because it makes them more mellow. Even President Nixon took up the debate. In 1972, his Shafer Commission also concluded that marijuana should be legalized. Speculation that Nixon used to get high before giving major speeches has never been proven, but many experts site the famous "Checkers speech," when the then-Senator and Vice Presidential candidate got emotional before millions of viewers, as an example of an obviously high politician.

Leading California Democrats, including Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer, are officially against Proposition 19, but the Democratic party stands to benefit from a larger voter turnout. This is due to the fact that normally apathetic groups such as young voters, who would normally skip midterm elections, may buck the trend and turn out in droves precisely because an issue that they are passionate about is on the ballot. The Wall Street Journal has recently pointed out that Democratic strategists are watching the race very closely. That's because this could be the same kind of "hot button" issue to energize the Left, much the same way that banning gay marriage energized the Right. If Proposition 19 is successful in California, look for variations to appear on the national stage, in time for the 2012 elections.

Brown, the current California Attorney General and candidate for Governor, was known for his eccentric behavior when as governor of California from 1975 to 1983 he was referred to as "Governor Moonbeam." Although there were rumors of marijuana use by Brown in the governor's mansion, it was never proven. Brown did, during his tenure, however, propose the establishment of a state space academy and the purchasing of a satellite that would be launched into orbit. Interestingly, a similar program was later adopted by the state, as a satellite was launched to provide emergency communications. Supposedly the cost of this venture, and other liberal expenditures by California politicians are what got us into this mess in the first place. In any case, billions of dollars have been spent over the years on marijuana enforcement nationwide. A 2007 report, "Lost Revenues and Other Costs of Marijuana Laws," by Jon Gettman estimated that law enforcement costs relating to marijuana nationally comes to 10.7 billion annually. The California State Board of Equalization estimates California's possible revenue from legalizing marijuana would be $1.3 billion per year.

Even though President Obama admits he smoked a little pot in his day, he has consistently been against legalization. It has been politically expedient for him to try and ignore the issue completely, but he was forced to address the issue because it outpolled all other questions in his first "online town hall" meeting early in his term.

Schwarzenegger, another famous ex-pot smoker (he can be seen in the movie "Pumping Iron" toking up), now favors cigars, at least publicly. He's the one who brought the matter to the public stage, but is now backtracking because it is politically correct. But California is on the brink of bankruptcy, and decriminalizing marijuana is a logical solution. A recent study showed that cigars are a much worse health threat than cigarettes. Schwarzenegger would be wise to give up his cigars in favor of marijuana. It's healthier.