The California Legislative Analyst's Office's recently published critique of Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, provides needed clarity to the ongoing debate regarding marijuana policy and offers a swift rebuttal to the doomsday scenarios touted by many of the measure's opponents.
According to the Legislative Analyst's Office, the immediate effect of the measure would be to allow adults age 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana in the privacy of their own home. The agency estimates that halting the prosecution of these minor marijuana offenses would save state and local governments "several tens of millions of dollars annually," and enable law enforcement to reprioritize resources toward other criminal activities.
The longer-term impact of Proposition 19 would be to enable "local governments to adopt ordinances and regulations regarding commercial marijuana-related activities." These activities would include taxing and licensing establishments to produce and dispense marijuana to persons 21 and older. By doing so, "state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues," the office estimates.
Predictably, critics of Proposition 19 have tried to paint a much more foreboding picture. For example, California senior Sen. Dianne Feinstein claims that the measure is "a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe."
Not so, says the Legislative Analyst's Office, which calls Feinstein's fears about pending workplace and roadway calamities unfounded. States the office: "(T)he measure would not change existing laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or that prohibit possessing marijuana on the grounds of elementary, middle, and high schools. "... (E)mployers would retain existing rights to address consumption of marijuana that impairs an employee's job performance."
Opponents' other claims -- that Proposition 19 will dramatically increase consumption and cost the state millions in health and social costs -- ring equally hollow.
Right now virtually anyone in California who wishes to obtain or consume marijuana can do so, and it is hard to believe that adults who presently abstain from cannabis would no longer do so simply because certain restrictions on its use were lifted.
Finally, unlike alcohol and tobacco -- two legal but deadly products -- marijuana's estimated social costs are minimal.
According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states, "In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user."
A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, "On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies."
So then why are we so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own home?
California lawmakers criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in 1913 -- a full 24 years before the federal government enacted prohibition. Yet right now in California, the federal government reports that one out of 10 people annually use marijuana and together consume about 1.2 million pounds of it. Self-evidently, cannabis is here to stay. Let's address this reality and stop ceding control of this market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises and put it in the hands of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first step in this direction.
PAUL ARMENTANO of Vallejo is deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? He co-chairs the Health Professionals steering committee for the Proposition 19 campaign and wrote this article for this newspaper.
- Article from Mercury News.