This November, California will vote on Proposition 19, an initiative that sets out to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana while the drug still remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act.
The initiative makes sense as a means to significantly weaken the Mexican drug cartels, save millions of taxpayer dollars and end violence. It’s almost as though there are no detriments. But of course there are, and they can all be attributed to California’s shtick as being America’s most irresponsible state.
Currently, marijuana is practically legal in California. How? According to the Medical Marijuana Evaluation Centers website, you can be treated with medicinal marijuana for “illnesses” like “hiccupping”, “nightmares”, and “writer’s cramp”. It is a hilarious litany to glance over, especially because the legalization’s proponents, who are largely motivated by the recreational use, are exploiting the sick to get what they want. Welcome to politics, stoners. This is what happens when crafting legislation is left entirely to the people, which is precisely California’s problem – not with just marijuana-related initiatives, but with all initiatives. There is no accountability.
California has some of the strictest initiative laws in the country forbidding legislative tampering, meaning that what the citizens say goes regardless of whether the initiative turns out to be a disaster in the future.
Some states allow the people to repeal their own laws and others grant state legislatures the power to repeal with anything from a simple to a two-thirds majority. California’s state legislature is not permitted to pass any legislation altering or repealing a citizen initiative.
California’s initiative laws are important here because of Proposition 19. If any unintended consequences occur should the initiative pass, which it looks like it will, state government will be powerless. What could some of those consequences be?
First, legalization has the potential to bring with it increased substance abuse. In 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 300,000 people were in treatment for marijuana dependency.
While much less dangerous than alcohol or cigarettes, marijuana can still be addictive. Realistically, I would imagine there would be a major spike in use and abuse but would quell after the hype over legalization has faded.
Second, according to the California Chamber of Commerce, legalization could cost the public school system $9.4 billion in federal aid and grants because schools would no longer be able to ensure a “drug-free” environment as required by federal law. Then again, California could very well use funds to prove it can keep schools “drug-free” even with the initiative.
Third, the initiative does not ensure that local governments will indeed place regulations or taxes. It’s the fine divide between “may” and “shall.” Practically all the regulations are at the local level, which will make it more difficult to regulate consistently. There ought to be some basic regulations at the state level.
The initiative has good intentions: fewer arrests and less money spent on minor marijuana violations, and reduced violence on the border and on California’s streets.
The initiative even actually strives to keep the community safe by increasing penalties and even allowing the “legislature to adopt a statewide regulatory system for commercial cannabis industry.”
The legal ramifications should also be kept in mind. Federal agents will still be authorized to arrest and prosecute people and businesses in California for possessing or selling marijuana.
I will at the very least smirk if Californians approves this initiative mostly because it will be “so typical” of California, a state that doesn’t know words like “accountability” or “fiscal responsibility”. It has an inherent culture of laid-back recklessness.
Hopefully, over time though, this initiative will solve more problems than it causes. In the end though, however much money California saves, the state will surely find a way to squander it.