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Los Angeles Times

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director October 13, 2010

    Republican candidate Steven Cooley and Democratic candidate Kamala Harris are campaigning to become California’s next attorney general. In that position, he or she will be sworn to uphold the laws of the state of California. Yet neither one of them will commit to upholding and defending California’s Prop. 19, and that — as I write in today’s Los Angeles Times online — is unacceptable.

    California’s next attorney general can’t punt on marijuana
    via The Los Angeles Times

    [Excerpt: Read the full text and comment on it here.]

    Regardless of which candidate wins the race for California attorney general, voters expect that San Francisco Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris or Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley will respect the outcome of the election gracefully.

    But they appear reluctant to extend that respect to Proposition 19, which would legalize the private, adult use of limited amounts of marijuana statewide and allow local governments to regulate commercial production and retail distribution. At their debate last week at UC Davis, neither Harris nor Cooley would state whether they would, as attorney general, enforce and defend Proposition 19.

    … Given that the attorney general is sworn to uphold all of the laws of the state, not just the ones he or she supports, the candidates’ responses were disconcerting. In both cases it appears that their personal biases against marijuana legalization could compromise their ability to objectively carry out their duties as attorney general.

    Further, both candidates’ statements exhibit extreme arrogance. On the one hand, both Harris and Cooley believe that voters should be empowered to choose the state’s top law enforcement officer; but when it comes to amending the state’s marijuana laws, Harris isn’t sure that voters have the final word, and Cooley disregards them outright. Both candidates ought to know better; after all, voters pay for enforcing these criminal policies with their tax dollars.

    If a government’s legitimate use of state power is based on the consent of the governed, then at what point does marijuana prohibition — in particular the federal enforcement of prohibition — become illegitimate public policy? Ready or not, California’s next attorney general needs to be able to answer that question objectively and definitively.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 30, 2010

    Last week I posted a brief response to the Los Angeles Times commentary authored by Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske (along with five previous drug czars) condemning California’s Prop. 19.

    Today the Los Angeles Times has posted my full rebuttal, which I’ve excerpted below.

    Some marijuana tax revenue is better than none
    via The Los Angeles Times

    … Kerlikowske’s opposition to Proposition 19 … is a fairly common one. Kerlikowske et al argue that, if legalized, marijuana’s perceived social costs would outweigh the economic benefits reaped by regulation. They base this allegation largely on the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the societal costs associated with those drugs’ use and abuse. True enough, but here’s why this sound bite is irrelevant to the present marijuana debate.

    Marijuana is safer than alcohol.

    Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths a year. … By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana … are remarkably non-toxic. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. In fact, the recently released Rand Corp. report found that in 2008, there were fewer than 200 “admissions to hospitals in which marijuana abuse or dependence was listed as the primary reason for the hospitalization.” By comparison, there are more than 70,000 hospitalizations in California annually related to the use of alcohol.

    Marijuana is far safer than tobacco.

    According to a 2009 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”

    Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.

    According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.

    In short, the drug czars’ assessment that present taxes on alcohol and tobacco — two deadly products — do not raise sufficient funding to offset their related social costs is not an argument in favor of maintaining the status quo, particularly when one recognizes that the social and health costs related to cannabis use are far less than those associated with the use of other intoxicants.

    You can read my full commentary here. (You can also comment on it here.)

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 25, 2010

    Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, along with five previous drug czars (including gambling addict William Bennett), have an op/ed in today’s Los Angeles Times condemning California’s Prop. 19.

    Given that the Drug Czar is required by law to oppose any and all efforts that would seek to legalize marijuana — including “any study … relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use) of” cannabis — his vitriol should not come as a surprise. Nevertheless, his commentary clearly begs the question: How is it appropriate for Californians to pay taxes to cover the salary of a federal official who spends a significant part of his time telling these same taxpayers how to vote on a statewide ballot measure?

    As far as Kerlikowske’s specific allegations against Prop. 19, suffice to say that you’ve heard them all before — including this whopper, “Law enforcement officers do not currently focus much effort on arresting adults whose only crime is possessing small amounts of marijuana.” (Really? Then how do you explain this? Or this? Or this?)

    NORML has already submitted a rebuttal to the L.A. Times. Our allies at Fire Dog Lake also have posted a strong refutation which you can read here. No doubt the headline says it all: “CA Prop 19: Drug Czars’ Latest Anti-Marijuana Propaganda is Easily Refuted.”

    Here’s a snippet:

    Their argument that a tax on legal marijuana would raise almost no money is just plain silly.

    “Regarding the supposed economic benefits of taxing marijuana, some comparison with two drugs that are already regulated and taxed — alcohol and tobacco — is worth considering. People don’t typically grow their own tobacco or distill their own spirits, so consumers accept high taxes on them as retail products. Marijuana, though, is easy and cheap to cultivate, indoors or out, and Proposition 19 would allow individuals to grow as much as 25 square feet of marijuana for ‘personal consumption.’

    “Why would people volunteer to pay high taxes on marijuana if it were legalized? The answer is that many would not, and the underground market, adapting to undercut any new taxes, would barely diminish at all.”

    I guess the Drug Czars have never heard of convenience before. Most people don’t actually like dealing with criminals or drug dealers. They would rather buy their vodka or marijuana from the liquor store down the street than spend their time tracking down some shady criminal smuggler to save a few bucks on taxes. The end of alcohol prohibition is in fact the perfect test case for this insane theory that legalization would result in almost no decrease of the black market. The reality was an almost immediate destruction of the black market for alcohol. Do you or any of your friends or family currently get liquor on the black market? I doubt it.

    It’s a sound response — to which I would add, I guess the Drug Czar has never heard of supermarkets; because last time I checked these facilities had entire sections of the store dedicated to the sale of fruits, vegetables, and plenty of other food stuffs that folks could grow cheaply and easily on their own — but most don’t. Why? For the same reason most marijuana users, even under legalization, won’t likely grow their own pot: they either don’t have the time, the space, or the expertise to do so. And even among those who do — most folks would simply prefer to pay a premium for the convenience of not having had to do it themselves.

    As for the rest of the Czar’s rhetoric, it’s simply more of the same and the folks at FDL nail it.

    This is what makes the fight to end our war on marijuana so difficult. The other side is not interested in an honest policy debate. Instead of honest argument, they rely on half-truths, distortions, twisted logic, ridiculous statements and naked propaganda. Sadly, America, this op-ed from Kerlikowske and friends is your wasted tax dollars at work.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director August 17, 2010

    A majority of Californians continue to voice their support for Prop. 19 — which would eliminate penalties for the private possession and use of marijuana by adults, and allow local governments to regulate retail cannabis production and sales.

    According to the most recent Survey USA poll (conducted August 9-11), 50 percent of likely voters in California say they are certain to vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 19 versus 40 percent who say that they will vote ‘no.’ These totals are the same as reported by Survey USA one month ago, and indicate that voters’ support is holding steady despite increased attacks and propaganda from our opponents. (NORML Outreach Coordinator Russ Belville has just posted an excellent rebuttal to many of our opponents’ more outrageous claims here.)

    According to the latest polling data, voters age 35 to 49 are most likely to back Prop. 19, and African Americans and self-reported Democrats are more likely to support the measure as compared to other groups. (To read why self-proclaimed ‘conservative’ voters ought to vote yes on Prop. 19, please see my recent op/ed in the Orange County Register here.) On Friday, leaders from the Latino Voters League held a press conference in Los Angeles announcing their support for Prop. 19, joining the state NAACP which had previously announced their ‘unconditional support’ for the measure in June.

    Predictably, many members of law enforcement continue to speak out against the measure. Yet, as you can see in my recent rebuttal to three Bay area police chiefs, their rhetoric rings hollow. In fact, even those in the media who oppose Prop. 19 are beginning to question the rhetoric and tactics of LEOs.

    Fortunately, editors at several prominent California papers are giving ample editorial space to getting out the facts regarding Prop. 19. Recently, I’ve had op/eds published in the San Jose Mercury News (“Critics of Prop. 19 on marijuana rely on fear, not facts“), The Los Angeles Times (“Feinstein’s misguided opposition to marijuana legalization“), and The Ventura County Star (“Media’s coverage of report spurs reefer madness“) setting the record straight.

    Bottom line: The status quo in California for non-medical patients is an abysmal failure. California lawmakers criminalized the possession and use of marijuana in 1913 yet right now in California, the federal government reports that one out of 10 people annually use marijuana and together consume about 1.2 million pounds of it. Self-evidently, cannabis is here to stay. Let’s address this reality and end the practice of arresting 70,000+ Californians each year for minor marijuana possession and/or cultivation charges, and lets stop ceding control of the commercial marijuana market to unregulated, untaxed criminal enterprises and put it in the hands of licensed businesses. Proposition 19 is a first, significant step in this direction.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director July 20, 2010

    Last week California’s senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein cosigned the ballot argument against Prop. 19, The Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Initiative of 2010, which would allow adults 21 years or older to privately possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use.

    Senator Feinstein’s public opposition is hardly surprising. After all, if there is one thing about marijuana we are certain of it’s that the public is well ahead of the politicians when it comes to the issue of enacting common sense cannabis law reforms. But that doesn’t mean that Feinstein’s fear-mongering — and yes, that is exactly what it is; at one point the senator claims that the passage of Prop. 19 will ‘require’ employees to sell marijuana laced cosmetics (huh?) and candy bars in the office — doesn’t warrant a public smack down.

    My rebuttal appears today online in The Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt:

    Feinstein’s misguided opposition to marijuana legalization
    via The L.A. Times

    Let’s assess her argument point by point. First, Proposition 19 explicitly states that it will not amend or undermine existing state law criminalizing motorists who operate a vehicle while impaired by pot. Driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal in California, and violators are vigorously prosecuted. This fact will not change under the initiative.

    Second, Proposition 19 in no way undermines federal drug-free workplace rules, just as the state’s 14-year experience with legalized medical marijuana has not done so. Further, it does not limit the ability of employers to sanction or fire employees who show up to work under the influence of pot. Just as a private or public employer today may dismiss workers for being impaired by legal alcohol, employers in the future will continue to be able to fire employees who arrive to work under the influence of marijuana.

    Third, Proposition 19 seeks to enhance the safety of California’s communities by removing the commercial cultivation and distribution of marijuana from criminal entrepreneurs and moving it into the hands of licensed, regulated business people.

    Proposition 19 would also allow local governments to reallocate law enforcement resources toward more serious crimes. Presently in California, more than 60,000 people annually are arrested for minor marijuana possession offenses. Proposition 19 would eliminate many of these needless arrests. The measure’s approval would unburden the courts, save millions in taxpayer dollars and allow police to spend their time targeting more serious criminal activity.

    … It is time to bring long-overdue oversight to a market that is presently unregulated, untaxed, uncontrolled and monopolized by criminal entrepreneurs. It is time to replace nearly 100 years of failed marijuana prohibition with a policy of sensible cannabis regulation.

    You can read my entire commentary, and leave feedback with The Times, here.

    PS: In other Prop 19 news, former United States Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders has agreed to endorse the ballot measure, and her name will appear in the California voter guide. Also, over the weekend, the California Young Democrats endorsed Proposition 19. (The California State Democrat party elected to stay ‘neutral’ on the issue.) Finally, last week the UFCW’s Western States Council, representing more than 200,000 union members in the Western United States, also gave their endorsement to Prop. 19.

    PPS: For those interested, I also have separate commentaries in recent editions of the New Jersey Star Ledger (“Christie administration is wrong on medical marijuana,” July 19), and in the Redding (CA) Record Searchlight (“Science is clear; why aren’t we paying attention?“, July 18). Please check them out and leave feedback so that the editors will continue to grant reformers these op/ed opportunities in the future.