Pro-marijuana push begins in earnest


Marijuana legalizationAs election day nears, California’s likely vote on recreational pot has drawn policymakers, politicians and law enforcement into an uncertain but probably decisive debate. 

While many Democrats have generally come to view recreational marijuana as an inevitability in the Golden State, Republicans have managed to hold the line of official opposition. As the Sacramento Bee reported, GOP members recently voted at their weekend convention against supporting recreational pot. But some traditional Republican allies have begun to give way. Law enforcement officials have now split on the issue; while many remain convinced that legalizing the drug would complicate their work and create more opportunities for crime, others, as the Los Angeles Times reported, have embraced the notion that reform is needed.

Dividing police

Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, has gone on record capturing cops’ fears that unexpected challenges presented by legalization in Colorado could put California in a painful situation. According to Corney, “extremely potent marijuana is being sold in Colorado that he fears will lead to high addiction rates and high incidents of psychosis,” the Times reported separately.

As the paper also noted, former LAPD deputy chief Steve Downing recently claimed that “continued criminalization benefits the cartels, street gangs — they are the ones regulating it now. When prohibition on alcohol ended it killed off the businesses of men like Al Capone. The same will happen here.”

Downing made his remarks at an event with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has spearheaded support for the ballot initiative that would legalize recreational pot. Newsom, laboring to unite skittish Democrats behind the measure, framed the move as a mature reaction to the failure of the War on Drugs. At the big roll-out for the initiative’s campaign, as the Sacramento Bee reported, Newsom was joined by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, one of California’s leading Republican figures, who made the civil libertarian case for legal pot. “We got a criminal justice system spending billions of dollars,” he argued, “to try to take care of someone who wants to smoke weed in his backyard.” In a sign of how tenuous Republican opposition to legal pot may become, Rohrabacher went so far as to invoke Ronald Reagan’s call to destroy the Berlin Wall, asking Californians to “join in tearing down this wall” of prohibition. 

The church factor

Yet another source of potential opposition, however, has become a target for pro-legalization forces. “There’s an even bigger wall that supporters of legalization need to scale,” as the San Francisco Chronicle observed. “It’s the wall surrounding churches in many African American and Latino communities. Getting over that wall will be one of the keys to winning the legalization campaign being steered by a combination of political pros and longtime advocates.”

“Six years ago, when California NAACP Chairwoman Alice Huffman was one of the few black leaders to support the failed Proposition 19 legalization measure, she couldn’t even get inside African American churches to talk about the issue. A group of black leaders led by a Sacramento pastor called for her ouster, as they wondered why ‘would the state NAACP advocate for blacks to stay high?’ Their opposition closed many church doors to Huffman and other legalization advocates.”

Planning ahead

Betting that voters will side with the drug, Sacramento has wasted no time in getting started on legislation that would closely regulate some effects of recreational marijuana on everyday life. At least four bills on lawmakers’ desks intervene at the intersection of pot and economics. “Assembly Bill 821 will allow dispensaries to pay their sales taxes in cash,” while “AB1575 makes the foul-sounding Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) into the more neutral Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), and calls for other changes to facilitate pot banking, like protection from criminal liability,” according to East Bay Express. “AB2243 is a tax on medical pot growers of $9.25 per ounce for lowers, $2.75 for leaves, $1.25 per immature plant,” the paper added. “AB2385 smooths the way for Los Angeles dispensaries to get state permits.”

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