Californians face marijuana legalization decision in November

by Tenzin Shakya, staff writer

Photo Credit Samuel E Heller

On Nov. 2 California voters will decide if marijuana should be legalized for individuals over 21 years of age to possess and cultivate despite the federal government’s disapproval.

If the measure passes, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) plans to make the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control responsible for regulating the cultivation and sale of marijuana by taxing commercial use. Anyone over age 21 would have the legal right to consume less than an ounce of marijuana freely in non-public places without being penalized and would be allowed to cultivate marijuana in personal spaces limited to 25 square feet.

Ammiano’s introduction of Assembly Bill 2254 which is currently pending, would tax $50-per-ounce and directly fund the state’s drug related education programs.

“It’s a 21 and over law and varies from county to county and if LA does not want legal weed, they don’t need to have it. If San Francisco wants it, it can,” said Joshua Nermon, president of the SF State Student’s for a Sensible Drug Policy. “You have to start somewhere and everything in the past decade has built up to this moment, legalizing marijuana and starting to look at our whole drug policy in a totally different light.”

Nermon said Proposition 19 would reduce the penalty for possession, send fewer people to jail and address the public’s use of marijuana. He said medical marijuana is designed for patients, but people have abused it by using it for recreational purposes.

According to the World Drug Report 2010, provided by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the world.

“But in a way, it’s a good thing because it has opened people’s eyes to how harmless it is,” said Nermon. “Marijuana does not create a dependency as other drugs like heroin.”

Max Mier, a medical marijuana patient and the creator of the iPhone application “Herb Converter,” gathered signatures for Proposition 19 by the Dolores Park Cafe in San Francisco’s Mission District. He said, “Marijuana is a much safer alternative to relieve stress versus the currently available alcohol which does, in some cases, destroy families.”

At SF State, “the typical consequence for possession (of marijuana) is completion of an educational module,” said Ellen Griffin, spokesperson for SF State. However, a “student with an intent to sell is automatically evicted from University Housing.”

SF State’s policy on marijuana is in compliance with the federal government’s Controlled Substances Act which recognizes marijuana as an illegal drug and does not acknowledge the difference between medical and recreational use of marijuana.

“Local or state laws do not apply on campus, so Proposition 19, if passed, will not affect the University,” she said.

Proposition 19 is estimated to generate $1.4 billion in tax revenue and help fund state programs. Despite revenue generated, opponents are in disagreement.

“This free-for-all measure is deeply flawed and poorly written and it’s doubtful that we’ll see the revenue listed by proponents,” said Roger Salazar, spokesperson forNo on Proposition 19.

He said unlike alcohol which is regulated statewide, this measure would leave it up to 536 different counties and cities to enforce and regulate laws in local jurisdictions. It would be “costing law enforcement more time and money to control marijuana and regulate authorized dispensaries.” Salazar called Proposition 19 a “jumbled legal nightmare” and said he doubts it will pass.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, District Attorney Kamala Harris and Mayor Gavin Newsom have announced their opposition to Proposition 19 and are calling on their supporters to vote against it.

“California will not see a single positive result if Proposition 19 passes,” Senator Feinstein said in July when she announced that she would co-chair the No on Proposition 19 campaign. “It is a poorly constructed initiative that will cause harm to Californians on our roadways, and in our schools, workplaces and communities,” she said.

Opponents predict legalized marijuana would lead to a decrease in its price, and the revenue generated from taxes will not be worth the efforts. It would also mean cheaper marijuana for patients who use it for medical marijuana purposes.

According to a study released by the RAND Corp, a non-profit research institute, the retail price of marijuana could drop to as low as $38 per ounce compared to the current estimated $375 per ounce.

In an email to [X]press, San Francisco based pro-marijuana activist and blogger Dragonfly De La Luz said that cities would have the right to levy unlimited taxes on cannabis and “possessing cannabis of any amount will be illegal if it was bought anywhere other than a licensed dispensary, restricting our coming freedom to possess whatever cannabis we choose.”

Frances Hsieh, chair of endorsements at the San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, supports Proposition 19 and said it would help bring money into general funds.

“The amount of money spent on law enforcement could be better spent on social programs involving the youth, family and children,” she said.

The cost of education has been increasing with the state’s budget cuts. Before Proposition 13 of 1978, People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, California schools were funded by local property taxes. After it passed, CA school systems became dependent on state general funds. Proposition 13 limited property taxes in California to no more than one percent of a home’s assessed value, shifting the focus of control from local school funding, to the state.

“We’ll be much better off if we wait until 2012 and vote for the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative (also known as the Jack Herer Initiative),” said De La Luz. “It’ll give us an opportunity to vote in on a legalization initiative that is actually worthy of the name, and that will make fewer people criminals, not more.”

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