Saturday, March 27, 2010

Will Marijuana Use Become Legal In California?

On Wednesday, March 24th, the Secretary of State in California certified that there were enough signatures to put this question on the ballot in November. Just in time to distract us from the never ending post-mortem of the health care debate, this should be an interesting issue to watch, particularly when a 2009 Field poll indicated the “yes” vote at 56%.

California, with its unique “legislation by ballot measure” approach to governing, is always entertaining for political observers like me. What will be interesting is watching which groups line up on either side of this issue. Not surprisingly, all candidates for Governor plus police associations have come out against it. And I would expect social conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, to be against it, as typically they like government to enforce their view of moral behavior on all, even in private.

Also, in the “to be expected” category, many in the industry supplying California’s legal medical marijuana are for it. But the argument for the ballot measure has a new twist: proponents claim a $1.4 billion benefit to the state in terms of tax revenues and savings related to police enforcement and court cases. That's a lot of revenue in tough times. So, legalize pot and ease the state out of the recession is their theme of proponents.

True Libertarians would come out for this idea, as it legalizes a private matter that adults could partake in and it’s not worth wasting the government’s time and money on keeping it illegal. The measure would allow those over 21 to use it in private, but not in public places of where minors are present.

Perhaps more surprising are that a number of police officers, frustrated by the wasted effort on nonviolent drug offenders, who support the measure as a way to focus on more significant criminal activities. But joining the "nays" are some of the current growers who fear legalization will flood the market with cheap pot (as anyone can grow it legally in a plot not exceeding 25 feet), thereby putting them out of business.

Most of all, I’m interested in seeing how conservatives and Republicans line up on this issue. This is a wedge issue that separates the true Libertarians from the social conservatives. So, I wonder where the tea party folks will be?

So, I’m looking forward to this on, if nothing more than seeing who lines up on which side of this issue. (And it’s not health care, for a change!)


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