Proposition 19 ('The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010') looms as other states look to California as a bellwether of marijuana legalization. I got in touch with Prop 19's chief promoter and originator Richard Lee and asked him to outline his top 10 reasons for marijuana legalization. Here's what he said:
1) Ending the black market would decapitate drug cartels in Mexico
Passing Proposition 19 will lower violent crime and undermine dangerous cartels by carrying off their biggest cash cow. Regulating marijuana means taking control of the California's most profitable agricultural product by wresting its oversight and profitability away from violent criminals and putting it into the hands of responsible members of society. According to federal estimates, 60 percent of Mexican drug cartel revenue comes from marijuana sales. The drug cartels that control so much of the marijuana trade have murdered 30,000 people in Mexico over the past four years alone. Creating a legal market and a legal means of production and distribution for cannabis in California will ensure that there is transparency and accountability in business transactions.
2) Ending marijuana arrests will save money
California wastes hundreds of million of dollars every year on marijuana arrests. As a result, our courts and prisons are clogged with small time, nonviolent offenders. Worse still, many are sent back to prison every year for violating parole by smoking pot. By legalizing marijuana, law enforcement budgets will no longer be burdened by targeting individual marijuana users.
3) Taking cops off the marijuana beat will make our streets safer
By passing Proposition 19 we will eliminate the profitability of the illegal market and diminish the power of underground drug criminals. Police will no longer have to spend countless hours arresting, detaining and prosecuting people for nonviolent marijuana crimes. Between the money saved and the new revenue that comes from taxing marijuana, police will be free to focus on protecting the streets.
4) Legalization and taxation will generate billions of dollars in revenue for California
Marijuana is already the largest cash crop in California. At $14 billion, it is more that five times as large as the wine industry, and all that money is untaxed. According to the State Board of Equalization, legalizing and taxing marijuana will generate an estimated $1.4 billion in new tax revenue for California. Every city and county in California will have the right to determine how much to tax marijuana within its borders. At the state level, legislation has been introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano that would put a $50 tax on every ounce sold.
5) Ending prohibition will protect the environment
Proposition 19 means going green for California, but not just in the way you might think. When Californians are allowed to produce cannabis for their own personal consumption, there will undoubtedly be a number of environmental benefits. For one thing, marijuana formerly produced in Mexico will soon be produced locally, doubtlessly saving hundreds of thousands of miles in transportation and oil usage. But even more important than that, legal production and distribution means California can get clandestine marijuana grows out of our defenseless public lands. These illegal operations cause human disruption in the least accessible of lands and most fragile of ecosystems, and on top of that, without regulation there is no control over fertilizer and pesticide use. Our current approach not only seeds our public preserves with an invasive weed, but it also promotes a serious threat to our water quality. Proposition 19 would make such illegal grow operations impractical and unprofitable, protecting endangered species of plants in the Golden State.
6) Legalization and control will make it harder for kids to buy pot
Far from making marijuana harder to get, the current prohibition actually drives an entire market underground where it is controlled by criminals who will do anything to collect a profit.
As former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara explains:
Today, because it is illegal, teenagers have an easier time buying pot than beer. For any high school student, trying to purchase a six-pack without ID means being turned away by a liquor store owner who is concerned with losing his license. The same can't be said for drug dealers who exploit prohibition to profit off our kids.
7) Changing our marijuana laws will end racial inequality in marijuana arrests
Recent studies by the NAACP and the Drug Policy Alliance highlight the devastating impact of the war on marijuana on minority communities. In major California cities, Latinos and African-Americans are arrested up to 12 times the rate of whites, even though federal surveys regularly show that whites use marijuana at the highest rates.
8)Regulating marijuana will create jobs
Bringing the marijuana industry above ground and taxing it will generate billions in state and local tax revenue that will be used to fund police, teachers, and firefighters. An estimated 60,000 new jobs will be created to sustain the newly legal marijuana industry.
9) Ending criminalization of marijuana users will stop people from getting records that block financial aid or employment
Every year thousands of students lose the ability to pay for college because of federal laws that tie drug convictions to financial aid eligibility. Similarly, employers can turn down otherwise qualified job applicants because of past marijuana convictions. Passing Proposition 19 will strike a blow for common sense so that people are evaluated on their academic and professional performance.
10) Starting a national movement
Passing Proposition 19 will spark a national movement to end marijuana prohibition across the country. Voters and policymakers in other states will be holding their breaths in the wake of marijuana legalization in California, as the topic of taxation and regulation becomes a legitimate part of political discourse. As the public discussion continues to move out of the realm of B-level comedy routines and into more serious political forums, the people arguing in favor of the prohibition status quo will soon be required to back up their message with sound science instead of scare tactics. When the rest of the country sees the tremendous financial benefits from law enforcement savings and tax revenues, and when the rest of the country realizes that the sky won't fall under a system of cannabis regulation, those who were previously afraid to speak out about marijuana will feel emboldened, empowered and politically justified to bring this conversation to their own communities.