Proposition 19, Legalization, Taxation, and Regulation of Marijuana in the State of California-A Yes Vote

It is important to have someone read the entire text of an amendment to the California Constitution prior making a vote.  It is not expected that everyone do so but as an attorney, I always like to.  After reading Proposition 19, the ballot initiative on legalization, taxation, and regulation of marijuana, it is clear that the benefits to voting “Yes” clearly outweigh the benefits to voting no.

What does it do?  Under current law, possession of an ounce of marijuana is a $100.00 fine, an infraction.  It is less than a speeding or red light camera ticket.  Under current law, it is what we call “decriminalized.”  This proposition simply makes the same amount legal and subject to regulation, taxation and control.

What does it NOT do?  It does NOT legalize black market or illegal sales of marijuana.  It has a two prong approach to eliminating non taxable sales of marijuana.  First, it allows individuals to grow it in the open instead of underground.  This eliminates people stealing electricity, having it grown in empty houses which carry a fire risk, and best of all, increases the supply which should bring down the price.  Second, it allows local governments or communities that want to allow their local town to generate tax dollars to sell marijuana to individuals over 21.  It does NOT create a state wide right but merely allows local communities to enact ordinances which allow for the sale and taxation of the product.  Sales and income tax would go to the federal and state governments while any local tax analogous to a room tax would go to the municipality that allows the retail sales.

I read the persons opposed to the initiative and it is obvious they all have political reasons for doing so:

1.  Both candidates running for attorney general:  Of course they are against it.  They are both running for California’s top law enforcement officer.  There is no upside for them to be in favor of it but their opposition is meaningless in that it is unreliable and based on the same false fear cited below that someone driving while stone prosecutions could be effected.  It is not a coincidence that there are many retired police officers and judges that are in favor of it.  They can now speak freely.

2.  MADD (Mothers against Drunk Driving)-They oppose every piece of legislation that makes any drug easy to obtain or lowers a penalty.   The amount of marijuana related accidents pales in comparison to the amount of drunk driving accidents.  The initiative does NOT affect any laws relating to driving under the influence of marijuana.

3.  The argument against Proposition 19 signed by Sen. Diane Feinstein and the President of MADD is flawed and inaccurate just like the AG candidates argument.   With the greatest respect to the Senator and the District Attorneys who parrot her argument, the Senator is simply being misinformed about DUI prosecutions relating to marijuana.  First, they are rare and nothing in the initiative affects them.  Second, the fear being generated by the opposition rises and falls on the issue of the presence of marijuana in someone’s blood or urine.  First, if someone is pulled over and they are not under the influence of marijuana or some other drug, there will be no test.   There has to be symptoms plus bad driving first.   If after a drug recognition expert (DRE) performs an exam they appear “stoned” and their driving was poor, only then, would their blood or urine test be relevant to corroborate the findings of the DRE.  Simply having marijuana in your blood (the half life is 30 days) has very little evidentiary value.  What the opposition fails to mention is that being “stoned” IS 100 PERCENT LEGAL under today’s law.  There is no prohibition under California law to be high.  Therefore, the issue of it being in one’s blood is a fact without any legal significance.  Nothing in the initiative effects DUI prosecutions.  It is completely legal to get stoned on Monday night and drive Tuesday morning.  This is the exact scenario both the opposition and the rebuttal to Proposition 19 claim would be a possibility under the initiative.  What they fail to mention is that this is the legal reality under today’s law and our laws for the last 40 years!!

It is ridiculous for the opposition to claim the initiative does not create a standard for what is driving under the influence of marijuana when the initiative specifically excludes any changes to drunk driving laws and excludes from the definition of personal consumption (the protected use by a person over 21) during the operation of a motor vehicle or consumption that impairs the operator.  These limitations cover the situation where someone gets “stoned” prior to driving or while driving.  It actually protects existing law, not weakens it.

This initiative should not nor would define any new legal tests for being under the influence when its sole purpose by the drafters was to avoid disrupting existing laws on the subject.  It is unfortunate that these ballot arguments are not checked by attorneys who work in this area because the public gets intentionally mislead.

Upon reviewing the entire statute, I believe a “Yes” vote is appropriate.   It is time for California to get a piece of the $15 billion a year in illegal marijuana transactions and for our courts and law enforcement to be relieved of the 61,000 marijuana related arrests conducted each year.  OUR money is better spent elsewhere.  This is way conservatives, liberals, moderates, and independents are all in support of this initiative.

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