California’s Marijuana Crackdown

The Feds have been cracking down on California’s medical marijuana dispensaries to stop a national marijuana trade by people with criminal backgrounds. Naturally, marijuana users are up in arms about what they see as an incursion into their ”right” to have access to the drug. While federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, conflict with state law is not the issue here. It is the corruption of the industry by criminal elements.

When voters approved the medical marijuana proposition, there was no guide as to how the drug would be distributed. Medical marijuana should have only been available through pharmacies, just like other prescription medications. There are no shops set up to distribute other specific prescribed meds. Likewise, there should not be any for medical marijuana. It is this failure in the original proposition that has brought about the current problem.

Significantly, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte acknowledged that in Sacramento recently. He said, “While California law permits collective cultivation of marijuana in limited circumstances, it does not allow commercial distribution through the store-front model we see across California.” The state can still remedy the problem and require that medical marijuana be sold only through pharmacies.

Legalizing Marijuana – Again

Before when I wrote on California’s Proposition 19 (“Legalizing Marijuana” July 14, 2010), I said, “If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes.” This is an argument that has been made in favor of the proposition. But the monetary benefit is actually illusionary.

There cannot be any income from taxes on pot under the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court has already ruled (unanimously) that it is unconstitutional to require anyone to pay taxes on marijuana because to do so is to admit to a violation of federal law (Leary v. United States, 395 U.S. 6, 1969). Even if Proposition 19 passes, the use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. It would not be long before a tax case comes to court and cities like Oakland, who are banking on income from taxes on pot, will find that those coffers will remain empty.

Any savings from decriminalizing marijuana will have to be redirected to the demands of regulation, which are part of the proposition. Drug enforcement will still be required not just for the regulation of marijuana, but also for the increased trafficking of other drugs. The “criminal elements” are unlikely to enter the legitimate marijuana business, but they will find an increased market for harder drugs, given the legal availability of such an excellent gateway drug.

There is no need for this proposition. Under the present policy in California, all you need is a doctor’s note and you can buy your “medical” marijuana. Most people who buy medical marijuana don’t actually need it. Ask around. In the past, I have used a doctor who would give me a “note” for the price of a beer. As it happens, not one note was for pot, but had I wanted one, he would have written it.

California’s Budget Mess

Once more California is in financial crisis mode because the Assembly cannot pass a budget. The longer the budget is stalled, the more costly it is to the state. This situation occurs every year and it is one that the state can ill afford, especially at a time of economic downturn.

The reason why this happens is that because a shortsighted voter initiative requires the state budget to be passed by a two-thirds majority vote in the State Assembly and Senate. While one party can have a simple majority, it is impossible for one party to have two thirds. At present the Democrats hold the simple majority, but the dilemma will be exactly the same when the Republicans hold the majority. So even when they do reach a compromise, it is always a budget that cannot work, a budget that contains a large dose of wishful thinking needed to get it passed. Add to this an intransigent governor, as at present, and there is a triangle of opposites that must be accommodated. Since he has a line item veto, the budget is further compromised.

In a situation like this, a super majority is really not a majority. It flies in the face of basic democratic principles. The power is held by the minority party in order to make up the required two-thirds. The fate of the budget can therefore end up depending on the vote of one assemblyman in the minority party – a situation that has happened. It is unconscionable that one person should be able to hold the whole state at ransom. That is not democracy!

In addition to the impasses, there are no senior members on either side in the Assembly who can exert their influence to facilitate the budgetary process. This is due to another shortsighted voter initiative, which prevents assemblymen from serving more than three terms of two years each. So far-reaching decisions end up being made by rookies and sophomores.

The financial mess that California finds itself in cannot be fixed until both those initiatives are overturned.

There is a chance that the undemocratic two-thirds majority will be overturned this November through Proposition 25 (2010), which restores the simple majority to the budgetary process. Opponents of the proposition see tax increases implied in the initiative, or at least that is what they will use in an attempt to defeat it. Such increases are not in the proposition.

It is possible that following passage of Proposition 25 (2010), a budget could pass on a simple majority with tax increases, just as a budget could pass with deep cuts in social services. The governor still remains as a factor that has to be accommodated. And the electorate can vote out those who supported the undesired aspects in the budget, or recall the governor, or vote in a new governor next time. In other words, it is the democratic process at work.

Legalizing Marijuana

In November, California voters will decide whether to fully legalize marijuana (Proposition 19). The state has already legalized marijuana use for medical purposes. If the latest proposition is passed, the main benefit would be the decriminalization of marijuana together with a steep drop in prices that would make trafficking the drug unattractive to criminal elements, and there would be some state income from taxes. The main personal advantage would be that it will be much easier and cheaper to get high.

The disadvantages, however, are significant. Decreased social inhibitions mean an increase in risky behavior, leading to more accidents. And there are health risks similar to tobacco. Marijuana has toxic elements, like cyanide and tar that is higher than in cigarettes; it causes mouth cancer; it increases pressure on the heart and narrows arteries in the brain, reducing cognitive abilities; and there is more. As with tobacco and alcohol, the taxes are nowhere near enough to cover the health and safety costs to society.

Significant loss of cognitive abilities by long-term marijuana users was brought home to me as a college professor.

When I was teaching freshman English, I noticed a pattern among some of the argumentative essays. They were characterized by a curious but complete inability to present a cogent, reasonable argument. Since a number of the essays in this group advocated (poorly) the legalization of marijuana, I referred to these failures as the “pothead” essays.

One day when I was with a student who had written a classic “pothead” essay, though not on marijuana, I decided on an experiment. I said, “Would you mind if I asked you a personal question?” He answered, no. So I said, “How long have you been smoking pot?” A large smile spread over his face. “How did you know?! I’ve been smoking it since I was thirteen and it hasn’t affected me one single bit.” Well, my friend, it had! I had deduced that he was a hardened user from the essay he turned in.

California voters have not always voted in their best interests, so there is an excellent chance that Proposition 19 will pass this November. More is the pity. We are still struggling with the impact and costs of smoking. Legalizing marijuana will only increase the load on society.