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.

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