October 27, 2010
Jews’ view of the pot initiative? Mixed
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From its outward statements, however, the federal government does not appear to be taking Dershowitz’s point. In fact, on Oct. 16, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder directly attacked Proposition 19 in a letter to several worried former Drug Enforcement Administration chiefs, promising to “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws against Californians who use recreational marijuana, even if use is permitted under state law. The federal government could conceivably sue the state or send in federal agents.
But Dershowitz said she doubts that the feds will come “marching in to thwart the will of the California voters. ... Even if they completely shifted their priorities [to marijuana enforcement], they would only be able to have a very scattershot and, ultimately, failing approach,” she said.
Still, many state law enforcement officials also oppose Proposition 19. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, for example, has publicly stated that he will enforce federal law on marijuana if Proposition 19 passes. On enforcement, the battle lines are being drawn.
The Marlboro Cartel?
Underlying all the debates about Proposition 19 is a fundamental disagreement about the role of government in private life. On one hand, if we know that legalization will increase the number of people living an unhealthy lifestyle, why vote to legalize it? On the other hand, if most smokers harm nobody but themselves, why should government tell them how to live?
“We have laws that protect people from themselves all the time,” Fontana police’s Jones said. “The helmet law for motorcycles in California, or the laws that say you can’t sniff glue. It is not a right [or] a personal liberty to use a Schedule I drug.”
And now that possession of marijuana has been downgraded to the level of a speeding ticket, Stanford University’s Humphreys said the argument for individual liberty is even weaker. “With no arrests for possession, no court cases, then you have to make me feel sorry for [dealers] who traffic bales of marijuana because they want to make money off of people who are addicted.”
Humphreys acknowledges that, in the past, overly punitive marijuana enforcement may have needlessly ruined smokers’ lives and unfairly targeted minorities (he recently worked under Obama to end mandatory minimum sentences for crack cocaine for the same reason). But he says that marijuana decriminalization has fixed the problem on the smokers’ end.
For Kazan, though, decriminalization does not settle the issue of individual choice and liberty. “Where are you supposed to buy it from? It leaves it in the netherworld.”
Making marijuana legal would indeed cripple the black market for pot in California (although according to an Oct. 12 RAND Corp. study, it would hardly dent the cartels’ profits unless California replaced them as the supplier for the rest of the United States). In its place, a new industry would arise to supply Californians with legal marijuana.
But the price of liberty and choice on marijuana is a “race to the bottom,” Humphreys said. Because cities wield so much power under Proposition 19, each town will cut its regulations and taxes to attract more interest from the marijuana business, he said. Next would come advertising, lobbying and big profits, as happens now with liquor and cigarettes.
“I don’t believe we want with marijuana what we have with tobacco,” said Humphreys. “I’m against Madison Avenue having their marketing people on it, against celebrity endorsements, against labs blending the product to make it more addictive, and [lobbyists] who go to the legislatures with big checks for campaigns,” he added. “All that, you would get with marijuana legalization.”
Dershowitz said she doesn’t believe the state will allow cities to gut their taxes and regulations on the drug. She predicted that “best practices” will eventually emerge from cities and counties that will reveal what level of regulation is just high enough to discourage huge increases in use, yet low enough to cripple the black market.
Humphreys isn’t convinced that the state can toe that line. “I grew up with state alcohol stores. They were nonprofit, didn’t advertise, didn’t sell at night, didn’t sell to drunks, didn’t have sales,” he said. “The alcohol lobby dismantled every single one of those.”
The tobacco industry, of course, has also historically shown great skill at manipulating Congress with its lobbyists. A new wealthy marijuana industry in the style of big tobacco, Humphreys said, would influence local lawmakers “in the first five minutes.”
In other words, though criminal gangs today are making money from marijuana, the alternative might also be unpalatable: “I don’t like the cartels making money, but taking the money from the cartels, multiplying it by 10 and handing it to Philip Morris isn’t exactly attractive either,” Humphreys said.
But the tobacco metaphor doesn’t faze Kazan. “I don’t smoke [cigarettes], I don’t encourage it,” he said. “But I also don’t think it should be illegal, because I’m not scared of people having freedom and making choices.”
To follow our complete coverage of Proposition 19, including an additional article on doctors’ positions on marijuana, visit JewsAndPot.com.