CA pot push may hit Colorado road bump

MarijuanaOn social media, at least, the assumption is strong that come November, California is going to be the latest and by far the biggest state in America to allow recreational adult marijuana use. Advocates of Proposition 64, the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, certainly appear optimistic.

However, this optimism may be premature. Polls show younger voters, including Republicans, are strongly predisposed to support proposals such as the Nov. 8 ballot measure. But voters who haven’t made up their minds may be dismayed upon learning what’s happened in Colorado since voters there approved pot legalization in 2012.

The Colorado experience seems likely to have eventually made its way into the California debate, but the recent chance seating of Assembly Speaker Kevin de León next to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper on a cross-country flight accelerated its entry. De León, a Los Angeles Democrat with statewide ambitions, told the Los Angeles Times last week that the “comprehensive” briefing he had gotten on what happened in Colorado left him so concerned he was unsure how he would vote on Proposition 64.

Colorado report depicts wide range of social ills

A 166-page report assessing how the Rocky Mountain State had been affected by state marijuana policies was released in September 2015. It found sharp increases in driving under the influence of drugs; increases in traffic deaths related to stoned drivers; a spike in marijuana users aged 12 to 17; a sharp increase in marijuana-related emergency room visits; and a huge surge in the number of children under 5 who had been exposed to marijuana in their homes. The document also found evidence that Colorado had become a marijuana exporter, with volume growers taking their crop to other states.

Plainly, what’s happened in Colorado offers rich fodder for anti-Proposition 64 ballot arguments. There is now a legal fight in the works over opponents’ proposed language.

The Colorado report is also a great source of TV attack ads — if the No on Proposition 64 has deep enough pockets to launch such a campaign.

Fearful that California’s legalization of marijuana would set a precedent for the nation, a group leery of Proposition 64 has emerged as its leading critic. Known as the Smart Approaches to Marijuana, it was founded in 2013 by former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy; David Frum, former speech writer for President George W. Bush; and Kevin Sabet, a UC Berkeley alumnus who was the leading opponent of drug legalization or normalization within the Obama administration.

In a recent Los Angeles Times article, Sabet expressed confidence that the anti-Proposition 64 campaign will be well-funded.

But as is often the case with ballot measures in California, one side or the other has a billionaire paying most of the bills. The key advocate behind Proposition 64 is Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, who has already given $9.2 million to qualify the measure and to set up a campaign organization on its behalf. At this point, the No on 64 side has no similar figure.

Battles over credibility loom

What’s more, Sabet’s emergence as a face of the anti-64 campaign could actually galvanize Prop. 64’s supporters.  In some progressive circles, he’s seen as an enemy of balanced, honest debate about drug use in modern America. A 2013 Rolling Stone article depicted him as the “biggest enemy” of pot legalization — a pretend reformer who is a “prohibitionist” at heart.

Dr. Sunil Kumar Aggarwal, a New York City physician who has written about marijuana’s potential as a pain reliever in the Clinical Journal of Pain, has charged Sabet with exaggerating marijuana’s addictive qualities and cherry-picking information to mislead journalists on many fronts, such as the alleged correlation between marijuana use and lower IQs. 

Sabet says that legalization supporters have their own credibility gaps, starting with a refusal to acknowledge how detrimental marijuana use is for teenagers and a refusal to admit that marijuana today is far more powerful than it was a generation ago.

California’s Proposition 64 shares its number with the Colorado pot measure approved in 2012. 

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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