Saturday, August 21, 2010

Marijuana Initiative Can Ease State, Local Budget Problems


Copyright © 2010 by Leo E. Laurence, J.D. for San Diego News Service • All rights reserved

We are s-o-o-o-o-o close to winning passage of Proposition 19, the initiative on the Nov. ballot to regulate, control and tax cannabis (marijuana).

As a former deputy sheriff who also served in the D.A.’s office, I was invited to be the keynote speaker for the “RX Cannabis Raid Relief Fundraiser” on Aug. 14, in the Balboa Park Ballroom; on behalf of L.E.A.P., Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, headquartered in Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.

A consensus of several, statewide polls shows Proposition 19 has the support of about 50 percent of probably voters, with only 36 percent opposed, Rebecca Saltzman, deputy campaign director of the Yes on 19 campaign in Oakland, told me recently. A simple majority — 50 percent plus one — is needed for passage.

Proposition 19 will significantly help solve severe budget problems in both Sacramento and San Diego! Official state estimates say passage of Proposition 19 could generate $1.4 billion in new state and local revenues (our streets’ potholes could finally get fixed!), according to the Board of Equalization, which collects our state taxes. That will go a long way to relieve the state’s and San Diego’s budget problems.

Additionally, the state can save at least an additional $200 million dollars in costs for arrests, prosecutions and prison expenses in the failed “War on Drugs.” The U.S. has about 5 percent of the world’s population, but 26 percent of its prisoners. We arrest 1.8 million people per year — a disproportionate number of whom are people of color — on drug-related charges.

”No matter how you look at it, our policy against marijuana use has failed,” says Gary Johnson, a former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico who openly supports Proposition 19.

Proposition 19 will also generate $12 to $14 billion from spin-off businesses (all taxable) like coffeehouses, bookstores and tourism.

Proposition 19 will allow adults 21 and over to possess one ounce of cannabis. It specifically allows local governments to set up a system to oversee the cultivation, distribution and sales in their communities. However, even if a city doesn’t want the added tax revenues involved, buying and selling marijuana will remain legal statewide.

Time is Short

Recent statewide polls show about 50 percent of likely voters are supporting Proposition 19, including seniors who typically vote.

The county says the number of young people voting has been significantly increasing in recent years, suggesting the probability of Proposition 19’s success is high.

Mobilize your life around this. Only two months are left to campaign. By mid-October, with mail ballots, elections are practically over.

In response to the prospect of Proposition 19’s passage, we can expect local, state and national law enforcement agencies to escalate their raids against dispensaries and growers. Law enforcement is a macho, paramilitary profession; and attack may be its only weapon now.

Hitting Drug Cartels

The Mexican drug cartels get about 64 percent of their profits from marijuana sales and distribution, according to White House officials.

“Legalizing marijuana will strip the cartels of (that money), which is the workhorse of their operations,” states a faculty expert at the University of San Diego.

Since January 2007, over 22,700 civilian deaths have been connected with the cartels, including journalists, embassy workers, police and children.

Indeed, the Mexican federal government is considering legalizing drugs so they can be taxed and controlled, much as Proposition 19 will do.

“‘Radical prohibition strategies have never worked,’ said former Mexican president Vicente Fox, calling on Mexico to legalize drugs, which, he argues, would hurt cartels that have turned part of the country in battlefields,” Time magazine reported.

Even our federal government has changed its marijuana policies. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is now allowing ex-military patients to use medical marijuana. Its doctors still cannot prescribe it, but veteran patients can use it in treatment where it is legal, as in California.

The Basics

• Unlike cigarettes and alcohol, marijuana is not physically addictive. Its use does not lead to “heavier” drugs.

• In countries where cannabis is currently legal, there is no evidence that legalization will lead to increased consumption.

• Marijuana does not cause consumers to become violent, or impair driving skills.

• Cannabis does not have the long-term, toxic effects on the body as deadly tobacco smoking.

• Establishing controls over legal marijuana will put dangerous street dealers out of business.

• Drug cartels oppose Proposition 19 because its passage will devastate them economically — just as the repeal of alcohol prohibition in 1933 dealt a major blow to organized crime.

• State officials estimate that marijuana is currently a $14 billion industry: illegal, untaxed and uncontrolled. Over 100 million have tried marijuana.

Contact Leo E. Laurence, J.D.: (619) 757-4909 or