October 27, 2010
Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed
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Yes on 19 proponent Dershowitz expressed much the same sentiment, saying that, as a mother, she feels comfortable in her ability to honestly educate her kids about marijuana without relying on prohibition. “I believe that we need to give kids the tools to make wise decisions and manage the messages that come to them,” she said.
Harriet Rossetto, founder and CEO of Beit T’Shuvah, a Los Angeles-based drug treatment center and congregation founded on Jewish spirituality, echoed those calls for engagement with young people. “I think the much bigger issues are the things that young people are lacking in their lives that lead them to look for avenues of escape,” Rossetto said.
Rossetto is ambivalent on criminalization: “I think that for a lot of addicts, marijuana is a gateway drug, and easy access might accelerate that,” she said. “On the other hand, I think criminalization creates another set of issues that exacerbate the problem,” such as the increase in crime that accompanied prohibition of alcohol.
Indeed, for many who actually work with teens and young adults, there seems to be more trust in education and community as primary antidotes to drug use, rather than government and criminalization. “I think often these days we want to wrap [kids] in some kind of protective pixie dust and that’s somehow going to solve all these problems,” Ablin said. “I think it makes it worse.”
One for the Road
Picture this: A year after Proposition 19 passes, it’s raining late at night on the 405 Freeway. A patrolling police officer sees a car swerve across two lanes. He pulls the driver over. The driver’s Breathalyzer comes up clean, but the officer sees a passenger holding a pipe with marijuana. What happens next?
A construction worker arrives at a work site in the morning. Before leaving home, he smoked a small joint in his kitchen. He sits behind the controls of some heavy machinery and begins his work. The foreman has suspicions, but under Proposition 19, what can he do?
These are a couple of the scenarios that No on 19 campaigners hope will make Californians think twice.
When it comes to DUIs, “If officers pull somebody over and the driver has a joint going, he’ll probably pass it to the passenger,” Fontana Police Chief Jones said. “If that’s an open container of beer, we’re going to give the passenger a ticket, [but] under Prop. 19, we can’t even touch passengers.”
On the other hand, even though passengers may help drivers avoid arrest for smoking while driving (which Proposition 19 says is illegal), the driver would still be on the hook for driving under the influence if he or she is found to be stoned. Although there is no Breathalyzer for marijuana, police would be allowed to use their judgment. Kazan, the former Torrance police officer who supports Proposition 19, said officers already routinely put drivers “through their paces” for drugs that a Breathalyzer can’t detect. In other words, asking the driver to say the alphabet backward and walk in a straight line.
The second issue, marijuana in the workplace, is more complicated. If Proposition 19 passes, employers will not be allowed to discriminate against employees for smoking marijuana unless their smoking “actually impairs” their work performance. However, what level counts as actual impairment is not clear, making it a likely issue for the courts.
Opponents worry that this leaves open a dangerous loophole. For example, they fear that an employer won’t be able to prove that marijuana actually impairs an employee’s work until after a marijuana-related accident happens. Jones is particularly concerned about workers “getting behind the wheel of a school bus or heavy machinery.”
Another concern is that California will lose out on billions in sorely needed federal money by falling afoul of the Drug Free Workplace Act of 1988, which forbids use of a federally controlled substance — such as marijuana in the workplace, actual impairment or not. Legal questions abound: Is it discriminatory under Proposition 19 to forbid marijuana during lunch breaks? What about residual intoxication from eating a pot brownie hours before work?
In theory, courts could interpret “actual impairment” very strictly and say that for some sensitive or dangerous jobs, any marijuana intoxication is too much, which could mean zero tolerance. Or they could interpret it more loosely and set some legal level of intoxication in the workplace short of actual impairment, which would be in line with Jones’ fears of workplace accidents and lost federal dollars.
Dershowitz dismissed those concerns, saying she doesn’t believe that any judge would consider it discriminatory to fire a stoned employee under Proposition 19. “I can’t [say] with certainty what the law will be, but my discussions with employment lawyers and [retired Orange County] Judge James P. Gray, who sat for 25 years, is that it’s ludicrous that that would be the interpretation.”
One of most appealing parts of Proposition 19, supporters say, is that commercialization of marijuana can generate tax revenue to help California and its cities pay the bills. The state sales tax would apply, and cities or the state could add extra taxes as well.
Two problems stand in the way of taxation, though. First, the California Legislative Analyst’s Office pointed out that there is no way to predict what sorts of taxes cities and the state will actually enact, if any. Second, marijuana taxpayers would essentially be admitting that they committed a federal crime.
On the first point, Kazan said that although we don’t know for certain, we can likely depend on cash-strapped cities like Los Angeles to levy heavy taxes on marijuana. And on the second point, Dershowitz said, the feds are just not likely to crack down on California. “I don’t see them coming in, guns blazing, prosecuting people for low-level possession,” she said. “The federal government is taking a more hands-off approach to medical marijuana now, [and] they could easily extend that premise.”