California Ballot Proposition 19 is also known as the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.” It would legalize the limited, personal cultivation and use of marijuana; legalize recreational use by Californians 21 and older; and allow cities and counties to control, regulate and tax commercial marijuana enterprises.
This is not a well-crafted measure. It provides no structure, no guidance, no taxing mechanism and no upfront funding for cities and counties to regulate, control and tax marijuana. Even if Prop. 19 passes, the sale of marijuana will remain illegal under federal law. It will create chaos, confusion and conflict with federal enforcement agencies.
Anyone who has lived in Mendocino County — or has friends or family there — knows of the confusion, lawlessness and legal jeopardy that exists when federal law trumps a “lesser” ordinance. That county of 88,000 residents, 140 miles north of San Francisco, passed an ordinance to legalize pot in 2000 — the first U.S. community to do so. Many residents claim the ordinance has contributed to widespread marijuana use among students; spawned crime and drug cartels; and scared off potential real estate developers and business investors.
CNBC’s documentary “Marijuana Inc,” first broadcast in February 2009, devoted a full episode to Mendocino County — a place where the allure of quick cash turned many law-abiding citizens into unlawful commercial growers of pot. Even though the county ordinance allowed for only a small, limited amount of plants grown per family — some individuals were harvesting hundreds of plants and 30 to 50 pounds of marijuana to sell to a wholesaler at $3,000 a pound. Profits are enormous. Corruption and bribery of officials suspected. County agents, local law enforcement and the Feds can’t keep up with the unlawful growers. The former chair of the board of supervisors there, Jim Wattenberger, has had numerous death threats from growers following his attempts to regulate marijuana in Mendocino County. He estimates that 60 percent of the county’s economic base is derived from marijuana.
So does anyone really believe that marijuana can actually be regulated, controlled and taxed in that kind of environment? Do city and county governments in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties have the budget, resources, staffing and expertise to engage in this kind of effort? The answer is an emphatic no.
In the workplace, under this initiative, employees could face increased exposure to injuries and business owners could face increased exposure to liability and claims. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, under Prop. 19, marijuana is more protected than alcohol. Their example: “If a forklift driver showed up reeking of marijuana smoke, an employer could not take disciplinary action until it could be proven that the employee’s job performance was “actually impaired” by the marijuana use” (after an accident occurred, for example.)
Mothers Against Drunk Driving strongly opposes Prop. 19. “Drugged driving” is already challenging drunk driving as the primary killer of young adults on our highways. Yet, if this measure passes, California drivers will be able to operate a car while under the influence of marijuana. The initiative says “smoking marijuana while driving” is not allowed but it would be legal to smoke marijuana immediately prior to driving. So drivers of a bus, taxi or light-rail train can legally drive “impaired” under Prop. 19.
Individuals who desire to purchase medical marijuana for legitimate health issues can easily get a prescription from any physician in the state. Medical marijuana “dispensaries” are growing exponentially — so access is not an issue. Those engaging in recreational use — when in possession of small amounts of marijuana — are now fined but rarely prosecuted. The ongoing decriminalization of individuals possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use will continue over time.
Proposition 19 goes far beyond what most would consider “reasonable use.” This measure is deeply flawed, unnecessary and ill-advised. If passed, it would create increased access and use of marijuana by youngsters; more criminal activity; more impaired workers and drivers. We strongly urge voters in the Mother Lode — and all Californians — to reject Proposition 19.