Ken Garcia: Legalization measure blows a lot of smoke at voters

After waiting decades for the political pendulum to swing in favor of decriminalizing pot, you would think marijuana legalization advocates would have been completely clear-minded in their effort to convince voters.

You would be wrong.

In November, we’ll find out if the measure to legalize pot is as popular as the drug itself. If you believe a Field Poll released Sunday, nearly half the state’s voters want to make marijuana legal. In the absence of any real campaign, that makes some sense since a lot of Californians — especially those residing along the liberal coastal communities — already act as if pot is legal.

And it’s no surprise that the once-golden state is leading the charge for legalization, since it has been impacted more than most by border wars and a fuzzy and uneven federal policy. Yet, a close read of Proposition 19 reveals an overreaching attempt by proponents to assuage fears about ending the prohibition of marijuana, a sort of magic bud for California.

Sadly, it’s not — Prop. 19 is a slapdash, muddled mess. And that will explain why so many groups are split on its merits — law enforcement officials, health professionals and even medical marijuana proponents have all come up with reasons to support or reject the measure, because the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 makes promises it just can’t keep.

Start with the big bonus legalization backers say comes with the act, that it would bring in billions of dollars in new tax revenue that cash-strapped California so desperately needs. That would be a considerable plus, if only the proposition could deliver on the premise. In reality, it’s a lot more wind than windfall.

Prop. 19 bails out on its vow of plenty. The measure permits each of California’s 478 cities and 58 counties to create new regulations for the cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana, laws that could differ between San Francisco, Redwood City, San Jose and San Diego. There’s no specific tax regulation contained in the proposition and no guarantees that any jurisdiction will make money. In fact, it has been suggested by some critics that it may cost more money just to set up some sort of regulatory network.

Supporters of legalized pot say that by decriminalizing the drug, it would reduce the power of the cartels that thrive on black-market profiteering and the violence that’s linked to such activity. And you could certainly say that the federal drug policy that results in the incarceration of 225,000 people each year is overzealous and unnecessary.

Yet, there’s no reason to believe that Prop. 19 would magically end drug trafficking. A study by the Rand Corp. determined that a sizable tax on marijuana could create a whole new black market for cheaper drugs, one that could feed an illicit teen market since the measure only allows people 21 and older to legally possess pot for personal consumption.

That’s only part of the problem with the measure. Last week, a coalition of medical marijuana advocates came out opposed to the initiative, saying it would actually hurt vulnerable patients by allowing local governments to prohibit the sale and distribution of pot in their jurisdictions — yet another possible unintended consequence of the poorly written proposition.

And possibly the most troubling aspect of Prop. 19 is that it would bestow a legal right for employees to use marijuana at work unless it could be proven that pot use actually impairs an employee’s job performance. It also would take away the right of employers to screen for marijuana use.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want public safety officials, truck drivers, hospital workers and teachers doing their jobs under the influence. And there is some irony that many elected bodies and organizations are pushing for legalized pot at the same time they are trying to put the clamps on the ability of people to buy and smoke cigarettes by citing severe health concerns.

The last time I looked, smoking was still smoking no matter what you pack into your pipe.

California is pushing the envelope on legalized pot and that’s a good thing. Too bad that in Prop. 19, the real promise turns out to be a theory.

Bay Area NewsNEPNews ColumnistsOp Eds

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

San Francisco Police Officer Nicholas Buckley, pictured here in 2014, is now working out of Bayview Station. <ins>(Department of Police Accountability records)</ins>
SF police return officer to patrol despite false testimony

A San Francisco police officer accused of fabricating a reason for arresting… Continue reading

Disability advocates protested outside the home of San Francisco Health Officer Tomas Aragon. (Courtesy Brooke Anderson)
Vaccine rollout plan for people with disabilities remains deeply flawed

On February 13, disability activists paid a visit to the house of… Continue reading

Mayor London Breed and Supervisor Shamann Walton announced that funding would be diverted from the police budget toward the black community in June 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City directs $60 million toward Black community services and housing support

San Francisco released new details Thursday for how it plans to spend… Continue reading

The Stud, The City’s oldest gay bar which is vacating its longtime home at Ninth and Harrison streets after more than 50 years, on Thursday, May 21, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
City’s nightlife recovery fund approved but struggling business owners fear relief may come too late

As San Francisco’s nightlife scene approaches nearly a year of a complete… Continue reading

Riordan Crusaders versus St. Ignatius Wildcats at JB Murphy Field on the St. Ignatius Prepatory High School Campus on September 14, 2019 in San Francisco, California. (Chris Victorio | Special to the S.F. Examiner)
State allows high school sports to resume, but fight is far from over

For the first time since mid-March 2020, there is hope for high… Continue reading

Most Read