Looking at legalization of marijuana in California

By Elizabeth McElhinny | gargoyle@flagler.edu

A decision at the ballot in California on Nov. 2 could potentially legalize recreational marijuana throughout that state.

Proposition 19, otherwise known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, is a California ballot proposition that seeks to legalize marijuana in the state. It requires a simple majority in order to pass.

California has had a long history of embracing the drug and defying conventional wisdom when it comes to the overall feelings and attitudes regarding marijuana. Ballot Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in California in November of 1996 before any other state, according to the Official California Legislative Information site. If history repeats itself, it is likely that once again California will pass groundbreaking legislation regarding marijuana use this November.

Regardless of what happens in California, recreational marijuana will remain illegal in the remaining 49 states, including here in Florida. However, history has proven that once landmark legislation is passed in one state, other states tend to follow soon after. If marijuana is legalized in California it could create a domino effect, and over time it is very likely that other states might follow this example.

The debate over the legalization of marijuana has taken off in the last two decades not only in California, but at a national level. It is a topic that often divides people and highlights the varying opinions from generation to generation. The idea of the legalization of marijuana is certainly embraced by the younger generation as compared to older generations.

“I think legalizing marijuana would be very beneficial to the state,” said Flagler junior Jeff Garber. “Their economy is in such trouble that the taxes collected through the production of legit marijuana crops will really benefit the state’s deficit.”

Considering that a recent analysis shown on the California Independent Voter Network indicated that Proposition 19 has the potential to generate around $1.4 billion in revenue for the state government, this seems like a valid argument. However, many government officials in the state still oppose the bill, fearing that it would bring about numerous legal nightmares and create multiple complications for police and court systems. According to a study done by the RAND Corporation, the legalization of marijuana could also cause prices of the drug to fall up to 80 percent, and with lower prices and higher availability, marijuana use could increase up to 150 percent.

“As a mother, I’m not exactly very into the idea of marijuana being legalized. It will increase availability and make it easier for kids to get their hands on,” said Susan Vocelle, a 58-year-old Florida resident. “Although my own kids are much older now, I can’t help but worry about the younger generations, and not only that but, the fact that it will be difficult to regulate the legality of things such as driving while high, and showing up to work high.”

Other than potential positive economic effects legalization could have for the state, a strong argument in the push to legalize marijuana exists in the fact that criminal penalties for marijuana use and possession are often disproportionate to the crime committed. A bill recently signed by Governor Schwarzenegger reduces punishment for the possession of small amounts of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, according to the California State Senate official website. The passage of this bill has many supporters of Proposition 19 concerned that many people will be satisfied with the stipulations of this bill, and will not feel it necessary to vote in favor of Proposition 19.

It is difficult to predict the outcome of this election with polls indicating that the vote will be extremely close. A field poll done by the RAND Corporation to no surprise found that a majority of young people and Democrats support the bill, while a majority of older people and Republicans oppose the bill. The debate over the legalization of marijuana will undoubtedly continue to be a divisive issue among generations and political parties, regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 2 election.

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