Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Marijuana Legalization Initiative on the November Ballot

It's on the ballot for November 2010. It is a great idea, and it is a well-written initiative. The drug war has failed, [Here is the May 11, 2010 AP article: - and here's what Grits for Breakfast, an excellent PD Blog had to say: ]and the marijuana front has been an even bigger failure. Marijuana is not even as dangerous as alcohol, which has been legal since Prohibition.

And it will fail at the ballot box. Here's why:

1) Marijuana legalization is soundly opposed by most old people. Old people vote religiously. California politics has been skewed by the opinions of older voters for decades. There is no reason for older people to want to legalize marijuana - they can get vicodin easily with their prescrption drug benefits. And alcohol is even more easily available at the corner store/local liquor barn. Oh, and one last thing - all old people know very well that only DFH's use marijuana. And anything that DFH's want, old people are opposed to.

2) There are no good spokespersons for legalizing marijuana. Take a look on the web and you will find that of the many, MANY opinions that are written in response to articles about marijuana legalization, the ones in favor are usually riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. What does this mean? They are "normal people." Not NORMAL, as in the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but just ordinary, non-college-educated folk. Who want to smoke pot. Most rational people who have a degree of some kind won't say ANYTHING about marijuana legalization because they fear being branded as "one of them." You know - druggies. DFH's. Pot smokers. And as just about ANYONE will tell you, that is the kiss of death for just about any professional. Oh, an occasional professional person can admit that he/she smokes pot, and might even be caught with/smoking pot. But to advocate for legalization publicly? No, that professional will suffer. I won't suffer in my profession because I already defend murderers, rapists and child molesters - supporting legalization is the least of my professional "sins."

Full disclosure: I don't smoke pot. I would smoke pot occasionally, if it were legal. But it isn't, so I don't and I won't. Why? Because I am a Deputy Public Defender, an officer of the court, and I don't want to get my house searched. I don't need the headlines. And I genuinely do my best to obey the law, however stupid it may be at times.

But I despise the ruins my country has made of itself over the ever-escalating drug war. I despise the corruption in the various police departments that the new prohibition has brought us. I despise the fact that the public schools, public schools that my children go to and will continue to go to, lack funds because my government has to feed the criminal justice beast, of which the drug war plays no small part. I got a letter a week ago that said that the school district can no longer afford to bus one of my children because of budget cuts. If given the choice, I would much rather not have ANYONE do time for marijuana-related "crimes," so that our state can afford to bus children who should be bused to school.

3) Police agencies and prison guards are, or soon will be, all over this one. They NEED marijuana offenses to be a crime. If decriminalization were to happen, within 2 years we would see the effects: nothing. That's right - nothing adverse will happen. People will smoke pot like they currently do, and the only guys who will see business cuts are the marijuana dealers, the various growers (the profit incentive will be greatly reduced, so it won't be as lucrative), the middle men, the police agencies who used to enforce the drug war laws, the prison guards who will have less peope to guard, etc. The various police, sheriffs, and the California Correctional Peace Officer's Association, will end up contributing heavily against this initiative.

Another reason they will attack it? God forbid it works, because then it will become a gateway of a different kind. A gateway to legalization of almost all drugs. Remember when the speed limit was 55 MPH throughout the country? That took forever to change, with several states essentially stating that they would abandon a portion of their highway funds by allowing cars within their state to speed. When the federal government considered changing the speed limit, police and highway patrol agencies from across the nation objected loudly, predicting that the sky would fall, and that there would be an avalanche of speed related deaths. When the law was finally changed, within two years the numbers were in: deaths didn't go up appreciably. People had been speeding already - now they were just doing so legally.

The same thing will happen with drug legalization. All that we have now is a new Prohibition, one where the drug companies, the police, and criminal dealers and producers (organized or otherwise) benefit. And taxpayers pay the tab.

But the initiative, unfortunately, will fail. Because no one who sounds coherent will stick their neck out to defend it. And that is sad.

Dennis R. Wilkins
The Guest PD Blogger


Bail Bonds Las Vegas said...

I'm torn on the marijuana legalization issue....Without a doubt, the war on drugs has come up short for decades now. But on the other hand, do I really want my kids growing up in a world where people are baked and laughing at Doritos bags while we're shopping at Walgreens?...What about the increased amount of high drivers we'll have on the road? In my expience (i.e. childhood indescretions) w/ driving under the influence of pot, I might as well have had a BAC of 1.5.

Marijuana's legalization will lead to other much harder drugs going legally mainstream as well. It's a real FUBAR'd situation with drugs we got going on here.

Dennis Wilkins said...

Thank you for the comment, Bail Bonds Las vegas. I appreciate the rational debate. Here's the response to your points:

1) The war on drugs hasn't merely "come up short" - it has been an abject failure. Any measurement of success tells us that we aren't simply losing this war - it was lost long ago. Street prices are down, meaning that supply is up, despite billions upon billions being spent. And what with two wars going on, we don't have money in this country for everything else we want to do and ought to do - such as a decent social system for all.

As to whether your kids should grow up in a world where people are "baked and laughing at Doristos bags while we're shopping at Walgreens," I can only say that you must go shopping at different places than me. This stuff is all around ANYWAY. And legalization won't change much of that - it will still be illegal to consume in public places. But legalization will make it easier to control, because then there will be lawful places (such as the home) for people to consume without fear of arrest and prosecution. If someone is high and disturbing the peace, that person will be arrested as always - that won't change. But now cops won't be constantly searching to "bust" some low-level pot dealer - now the cops will be able to focus on keeping the streets under control.

AS to the DUI issue, DUI is actually hard to prove as to marijuana because the effects of marijuana are really in dispute. But it will still be illegal - that won't change.

Finally, I question marijuana being a "gateway drug." Alcohol is as much a gateway drug, and that is legal. Prescription drugs like oxycontin (Ruch Limbaugh, anyone?) and vicodin are far more gateway drugs than marijuana is, and those are legal. The only difference is that getting "legal" meds requires a prescription and money, meaning the righ are able to get legally high.

Thanks for the comment.

ramsey hanafi said...

Hear hear Dennis. I'm an attorney and I understand your reasoning re: professionals not speaking up for this initiative. However I also think attorneys are in a unique position to speak up about this initiative, even if some of us aren't criminal attorneys, as we (well, some of us) do in some way have a bit more "leeway" in regards to making arguments for specific legislation. It's not as hard for us to keep things on a level unrelated to any motivation to just, well, smoke pot legally I guess you could say.

It is perfectly reasonable to say I think our jails are too full, our criminal dockets too stuffed, and our police and social service dollars too stretched to continue to treat simple marijuana possession and use as a crime in the manner we do. I have no qualms putting my name to the idea that it should be at the very least decriminalized and could be a potentially huge boon for California, as well as traditionally poor counties such as Humboldt, Del Norte, and Trinity.

With that said I lament the idea that people should be afraid of putting their name to a perfectly rational and useful initiative. We need to combat this idea and in my opinion the only way to do that is by example. We should speak up and make a name for those of us who are not just "dirty f%#*ing hippies" that want to smoke a joint without getting hassled by the cops. (Not that there is anything particularly wrong with that motivation, mind you.) I proudly signed the petition to put this on the ballot so I have no qualms putting my full name here. Thanks for your post.