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California's marijuana initiative

A step in the right direction

By John Silveira

Issue #124 • July/August, 2010

On California's November 2010 ballot there will be an initiative to decriminalize the use, limited possession, and limited growing of marijuana. In effect, it will make the demon weed "legal" in the Golden State. This comes 14 years after Proposition 215 made California the first state to allow medical use of marijuana. Recent polls indicate the new proposition will pass, as 56 percent of eligible voters indicated they intend to vote for it.

I don't use pot—tried it when I was young, didn't like it—but I'm 100 percent in favor of allowing those who want to use it to make that choice.

Problems with the pro arguments

The proposition seeks to legalize marijuana so the state can tax it and raise "sorely needed revenue." Some estimates project $1.3 billion could be raised annually from taxing cannabis. I can picture politicians and bureaucrats in Sacramento smacking their lips over that one. From a practical point of view, I can see where this might work in getting the initiative passed. But, from a philosophical point of view, I disagree with this approach for two reasons.

The truth is, government doesn't need new ways to raise tax revenues, it needs to find ways to cut spending and, like any business, to spend its money more efficiently. No matter how much money it raises, California, like all modern governments, including that in D.C., will find new ways to spend it all, then run deficits again until they need more. In today's down economy, more taxes are the last thing we need. That money should be left in the private sector where it can create new jobs and more national wealth.

Worse, legalizing marijuana to tax it sends a chilling message. Doing what we want with our bodies is a fundamental right. The initiative conveys the idea that this right, already taken away by politicians and bureaucrats, can now be bought back. My rights are not for sale!

The real reason marijuana should be legalized is because criminalizing it is just plain wrong, arguments that society will go to pot as a result of its passage, notwithstanding.

The con arguments

Hoping they can stymie the proposition, opponents are parading out the many health and social myths that have surrounded marijuana use. But let me tell you, despite their calamitous warnings, there's no evidence that pot smoking is a major factor in automobile accidents, that it kills brain cells or impairs memory, destroys motivation, leads to other drugs, or will induce its users to commit violent crimes. On the other hand, what has been documented is that it's much less harmful than booze.

I, and many others of my generation, came to doubt these myths long ago. When I was in college in the '60s, I was surrounded by people who smoked pot. None of them became drug addicts, none lost their minds, most graduated, and most are successful today. But even if you can point to someone whose life was ruined by it, it's insane to decide the state should jail, fine, and ruin the reputations of millions of others who just want to play with it as a recreational drug in an attempt to save those who can't control themselves.

How many do we penalize for these myths? In California alone, more than 75,000 arrests are made every year on misdemeanor and felony charges associated with pot. Nationwide, the figures are more than 800,000. This isn't rape, robbery, murder, fertilizer bombs, or other real crimes, this is persecution of people who have the audacity to exercise their right to do with their bodies as they see fit. So if you're looking for the real adverse social and health consequences associated with cannabis, consequences that destroy lives and health and promote crime the way Prohibition did early in the 20th century, you can find them in the penalties the state imposes on its citizens if they are caught using it. It's past time to change that.

Who supports the initiative?

Leadership in neither of the major political parties is willing to endorse the new initiative. However, voter support cuts across party lines. A recent poll shows 62% of independents, 59% of Democrats, and 46% of Republicans intend to vote for it. But it should be noted that the leadership in neither party lent support to Proposition 215 in 1996 either. However, they are comfortable with it today.

Tea Partiers and Republicans, in particular, should embrace this Proposition because it goes to the heart of what they claim to be among their most cherished beliefs—that the government should get out of people's personal lives. This means out of our bedrooms, our pockets, and our personal habits. Sadly, however, they're more likely to hang back in the wings, withholding support until the decision is made for them. It doesn't make them look good. One should never be a Johnny-come-lately to freedom.

Though the rationale for legalizing marijuana—to tax it—is flawed, it is a step forward in getting intrusive government out of our lives and in taking back our priceless freedoms. Let's hope it sweeps the country.

Read More by John Silveira

Read More Opinion / Commentary

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