Tag Archives: Meg Whitman

Prop. 19 Goes up in Smoke

 

Mises Daily: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 by

[Watch the interview with Mark Thornton on Prop. 19.]

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Proposition 19 in California would have legalized marijuana, but it fell short. Victory seemed almost a foregone conclusion for many; after all, it is California. For millions, both in California and across the country, news of Prop. 19’s failure came as a major disappointment. However, it should be considered a great victory for such a radical measure to get 46 percent of the vote in open defiance of federal law, especially considering the intense opposition. Plans are already in the works to put the initiative back on the ballot for the 2012 election, which is expected to have higher turnout from young people. But in order for the ballot initiative to succeed, we must first understand why it failed.

The Opposition

In order to understand the depth and strength of the opposition, it is necessary to understand what Prop. 19 is really about. This legislation would be in open opposition to federal law as well as to a United Nations treaty that supports the drug war. It would be a law passed by the people, not the legislature. Most importantly, it would demonstrate that in the absence of marijuana prohibition, society can survive and thrive.

This example would give other states the idea that they could also effectively repeal marijuana prohibition. It might even create a national effort to repeal marijuana prohibition. It might even give people the idea to repeal other silly and harmful federal laws. This would open a can of worms for federal authority and bring back the idea of a people’s nullification.

So as you can see this was a critical victory for federal authority. It is not just that some potheads forgot to register to vote. Lots of money was spent, lots of lies were told. This was the equivalent of a goal-line stand for federal authority.

Bruce Yandle created the “bootleggers and Baptists” model of politics to describe how special-interest groups who normally oppose each other work for a common goal. With alcohol prohibition, Baptist preachers teamed up with bootleggers and moonshiners to make and keep alcohol illegal. Today we see the shared interests of environmental groups and established oil companies, who both want drilling restricted.

Those opposing Prop. 19 included everyone from marijuana dealers to megachurch preachers. All the powerful politicians, candidates, pot smokers, and even the California Beer and Beverage Distributors Association joined the team. The ancient proverb “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” perfectly describes the relationship of these seemingly unlikely bedfellows.

Politicians

Politicians lined up solidly against Prop. 19, as you would expect. Gubernatorial candidates Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman opposed it. US Senate candidates Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina opposed it. California senator Dianne Feinstein opposed it. California representative and speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi opposed it. Both candidates for attorney general opposed it.

In an attempt to dishearten supporters of Prop. 19, US attorney general Eric Holder issued a statement that he would vigorously enforce federal law in California even if Prop. 19 passed. In a similar vein, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill making possession of small amounts of marijuana a minor violation punishable by a maximum fine of $100. This was a last-ditch effort to undermine support for Prop. 19 by giving the impression that marijuana was de facto a legal drug.

Even Mexican president Felipe Calderon and Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos vocally opposed Prop. 19 — not surprisingly, given that Mexico and Columbia receive a great deal of money from the United States to fight the War on Drugs, and both countries generate substantial incomes from the sale of illegal drugs. Legal pot in California would have been a big blow to both marijuana and cocaine sales from south of the border.

Bootleggers

There is good evidence that those who currently grow and sell illegal marijuana opposed Prop. 19. The “Emerald Triangle,” consisting of Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity Counties, is the major marijuana-growing region in Northern California. According to Mother Jones, those three counties voted to defeat Prop. 19:

“There’s a large movement up here of people who realize that their self interest lies in keeping marijuana illegal,” says Hank Sims, the editor of the North Coast Journal, based in the Humboldt town of Eureka. Growers in the Emerald Triangle’s rugged hills and foggy redwood groves are shielded from the snooping eyes of the DEA, but that advantage would become a handicap if pot could be openly cultivated in California’s warm, flat, agribusiness-dominated Central Valley. North Coast ganja growers “have got government-sponsored price control in the form of busts,” Sims explains. “So I think a lot of people kind of cynically voted their pocketbook and voted to keep it illegal.”

There was even a group called “Stoners against Legalization,” but it turns out that it was headed up by a drug-law attorney who would have lost a great deal of her business had Prop. 19 passed. Likewise, medical marijuana shops have come out against Prop. 19 on the ludicrous notion that legalization would reduce patient access to marijuana.

Baptists

Segueing from bootleggers to Baptists, we find this headline from the East Bay Express: Stoners against Legalization Team Up with Ex-Crackhead Priest. Of course, the priest was joined by fundamentalist Christians as well. The East Bay Express reports,

Backed by the California Beer and Beverage Distributors, no on 19 group “Public Safety First” employed the powerful Christian fundamentalist organization Vision to America. [T]he anti-gay rights group asked its hundreds of thousands of believers nationwide to “help us get the word out about our campaign to defeat legalized recreational marijuana in schools.”

The California Beer and Beverage Distributors, who would be hurt by lowe r marijuana prices, teamed up with church-based Vision to America — talk about bootleggers and Baptists in action — to raise money, run advertisements, and mislead the public debate. They claimed that Prop. 19 would lead to allowing truck drivers, nurses, and students to get high before driving, nursing, and going to school. The Chamber of Commerce also aired some blatantly misleading advertisements.

The truth, of course, is that students, nurses, and truck drivers can be prevented from getting high before showing up, just as they are prevented from getting drunk. The truth is that businesses can prevent customers and employees from smoking pot on their property, and insurance companies would not go along with businesses that let their employees get high and operate heavy machinery or fly planes. In fact, marijuana is saferthan alcohol and is probably only the 10th-most-problematic recreational drug.

Given the powerful forces opposing Prop. 19 — along with their lies and trickery — the forces of liberty and prosperity should not be disheartened by this initial defeat. We now have a copy of their playbook — politicians, pot growers, and medical-marijuana dealers oppose legalization, while Christian organizations, beer distributors, and drug lawyers spread lies to protect their self-interests.


Mark Thornton is a senior resident fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, and is the book review editor for the Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics. He is the author of The Economics of Prohibition, coauthor of Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, and the editor of The Quotable Mises, The Bastiat Collection, and An Essay on Economic Theory. Send him mail. See Mark Thornton’s article archives.

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Debunking false fears about Prop. 19

Published: Oct. 18, 2010
Updated: 10:19 p.m.

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Editorial

Given that it was written partially in response to opinion polls, rather than as an exercise in pure theory, Proposition 19, which would legalize the possession and use of up an ounce of marijuana (cannabis) for adult Californians, contains provisions that an advocate of pure devotion to liberty might not have included. Some of these provisions have raised questions, some justified and some exaggerated out of any relation to reality. We thought it appropriate to deal with some of these issues, chiefly the reasons for having a “local option” for sales and cultivation and the possible implication this proposal would have on the ability of employers to discipline people who are impaired at work due to cannabis use, and of police to handle drivers similarly impaired.

Prop. 19 would establish a statewide policy, to wit: adults may possess up to an ounce of cannabis and may cultivate a patch of plants amounting to 25 square feet. But it contemplates that there will be a demand to purchase cannabis, as well, so it allows localities to develop their own policies for regulating cultivation and sales (and collecting taxes on them) or to prohibit any sales or cultivation beyond the 25-square-foot limit.

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Critics argue that it may be too much to ask of city councils to develop sensible regulations in an unfamiliar area. There is also a fear that there will be so much variance from city to city that it will be just too confusing for law enforcement officials, and some marijuana users might get caught in compromising situations as they travel from city to city.

The local option plan grew out of the experience of so many cities at implementing (or not implementing) medical marijuana policies in response to Prop. 215 in 1996. It became obvious that some city governments would prefer to have no medical marijuana dispensaries, while others seemed to welcome them, or at least to accommodate their regulations to the policies endorsed by voters. Prop. 19 allows local jurisdictions to make that choice.

“It’s funny,” Joseph McNamara, a Hoover Institution research fellow and former police chief of San Jose, told us. “When I was a police chief, local officials complained constantly about mandates, most of them unfunded, from Sacramento. Now many of these same people object to a proposition without a mandate on local government. If it had included a mandate the outcry would have been louder. I suspect it’s a matter of stretching to find a reason to oppose Prop. 19.”

In fact, different cities have different policies toward the sale of liquor (within the framework of state laws), different zoning regulations, and different policies on a wide range of issues. Developing regulations that respond to local concerns within the framework of state and federal laws is what city councils and other arms of government are supposed to do. The beauty of local option is that the experience of different cities will serve as a laboratory of policy alternatives from which policy students and other city councils can learn what works and what doesn’t.

As for employment policies, Prop. 19 specifically states that “the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance shall not be affected.” However, that clause is preceded by one that says “No person shall be punished, fined or discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this Act.” Critics have contended that this creates a “protected class” of marijuana smokers who are not subject to the same rules as the rest of us.

This is an incorrect inference. Prop. 19 reinforces laws against driving while impaired, makes it illegal to smoke in front of minors, and makes it illegal to smoke in public places. Cannabis users under Prop. 19 will be subject to all the constraints imposed on other citizens and some unique to them.

The reason for prohibiting discrimination against cannabis users is simple. Existing testing methods can detect metabolites of cannabinoids for up to a month after cannabis use – long after any intoxication or impairment has disappeared. Employers can’t fire an employee for getting drunk on Saturday night so long as he or she shows up Monday able to perform satisfactorily. A similar policy should apply to marijuana and will apply if Prop. 19 passes.

A similar policy will apply to driving while impaired. A complication is that there is no simple roadside test for marijuana use. The responsibility of police will be to look for signs of impairment, as is the case now.

Legalizing marijuana use for adults is a significant step away from nanny-state policies and all the crime, corruption and violence that accompany marijuana prohibition, so some caution about such an important move is understandable. But the impact on employment polices, driving laws and the responsibilities of local government are not sufficient to justify rejection of this proposal.


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