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Puff, Puff, Pass Prop. 19

November 1, 2010

Brian Hoffstein
Puff, Puff, Pass Prop. 19

On Tuesday, California voters will decide whether to vote for Proposition 19, which would legalize the possession and taxation of marijuana. I don't want to talk about the estimated $1.4 billion yearly tax revenue that’s up at stake. I’m not going to discuss the other tens of millions of dollars from the tax payer money that won't be spent busting pot smokers. Nor do I want to talk about all the other ways this state would save money and apply valuable resources to areas that really need them. Fiscal arguments in support of Prop. 19 are hard to counter. Yet just because the state of California is in major debt and that legalizing marijuana could potentially help, it doesn't mean it should be legal.  If this, however, is a low-risk, high-reward investment for the State of California, then it's time we start acting a bit rational and let the green plant blossom. If California were to effectively proclaim marijuana a legal substance, it would not be revolutionary.  At most, the effects of passing Prop 19 would be evolutionary - with respect to the cannabis community.  I say this because not much would change with its legalization.

Marijuana is everywhere. Medical marijuana dispensaries have outnumbered Starbucks coffee shops in L.A. since 2009. It is so easy to get a prescription for medicinal marijuana that a Geico caveman could do it. In fact, just about any California resident over the age of 18 can do it.  Citizens of the Golden State can be prescribed marijuana for several different symptoms – ranging from back spasms to writer’s block (not kidding).

Not only is the medicinal world of marijuana flourishing, the illegal drug trade isn’t doing too bad either. Patients of the dispensaries can always go and pick up a little extra to spot a buddy or two.  Basically, to put it in a nutshell, the chronic is ubiquitous. The biggest impact of legalizing the drug for its users would be  alleviating the stigma that is attached to smoking pot.

Will marijuana use go up if it is legalized?  To some degree, I think the answer is obviously yes.  Will the work force be flooded with employees that are high as a kite?  No way.

Alcohol is legal and has proved to be a much more dangerous substance than marijuana.  An employee knows that if you show up to work drunk, you will be fired; hence, if you want and deserve a job, you are not going to mix booze and responsibility.  The same is true for marijuana.  If you can't get the job done because you're stoned, you're not going to get a job.

If Prop. 19 is passed, the state's standards of individual morality will not be compromised.   In the same way any good citizen might have a drink or two after a long day at work, they may - if the bill is passed - enjoy a finely rolled marijuana cigarette instead.  Whatever an individual's vice may be - alcohol, marijuana, high fructose corn syrup - he still must adhere to everything society asks of them and if not, he pays the penalty.  If marijuana becomes a legal leisure activity, moral standards will not be diminished.  Nor will society see any real change in its citizens' character.

The major change that awaits if this bill were to be passed will be a much needed reallocation of the government's resources.  Currently, we are so adamant about prosecuting marijuana smokers that an estimated 750,000 Americans are arrested each year for recreational use.  The New York Times reports California coughs up $216,000 per year for one juvenile delinquent and a paltry $8,000 for a child in the public school system.  Instead of using tax payer money to punish its citizens, use that money to invest in them.

At the end of the day, the benefits of legalizing marijuana outrageously outweigh the costs.  The greatest threat is increased consumption of a drug that has shown to have numerous benefits.  In contrast, the violence and gang wars that are directly tied to the underground marijuana market will be subdued and the state can spend all its new revenue on nurturing its citizens rather than being at war with them.

For me, this entire ordeal is somewhat trivial. Marijuana is eventually going to be legalized; if not on November 2, then some time in the near future. History will look back on the days when marijuana was illegal and laugh at us like history laughs at the prohibition of alcohol. It’s time to face the fact that marijuana will one day be legal. For California, now seems like a reasonable time.

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