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To national detriment, Golden State voters defy the high
My home state, California, has been through a rather tumultuous decade of politics: a joke of a recall election in 2003 featuring bodybuilders, porn stars, and child actors; the 2008 ban on previously legal gay marriage; and in Tuesday’s election, a failure to legalize the state’s most popular recreational drug. In many elections, the nation watches the West, and we always manage to disappoint. We put an actor in the governor’s seat, we revoked rights from our citizens, and now, we’ve let antiquated conservative values trump legitimate concerns about the state budget and crowded prisons.
Proposition 19’s defeat in Tuesday’s referendum was more than just a blow to stoners across the nation. If the referendum had been successful, it would have legalized and regulated the production, sale, and use of marijuana, bringing major revenue to our financially-strapped state. Politicians in Sacramento can now share the blame for the state’s fiscal woes with California voters who weren’t willing to let go of their outdated reservations about marijuana use and pull the state out of debt.
Who are those naysayers kidding, anyway? Residents of California know how easy it is to get high with impunity in the Golden State. The real change that would have resulted from Prop. 19’s passage would be the legal oversight of a huge cash crop industry. A booming business would have moved out of the underground and into the great, disinfecting sunlight of government legitimacy.
However, voting yes on Prop. 19 was not just a question of allowing Californians to smoke marijuana more safely. If the state gained control of the marijuana industry in California, the tax revenues from sales would bring needed relief to the state’s $19 billion deficit. Estimates show that regulating marijuana would bring in an estimated $1.3 billion annually.
The biggest financial relief associated with Prop. 19, however, would have been the money saved by making cuts to law enforcement, since police officers would no longer be arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens who happened to be holding more than an ounce of the good stuff. Legalization would have also relieved California’s already overcrowded prison system. With pot legalized, the California justice system would be able to focus its efforts on preventing crimes that actually have victims and putting real criminals in prison, saving a significant amount of money while doing so.
The fact that California, a bastion of liberalism and relaxed living, failed to legalize a substance that is so ubiquitous within its borders does not bode well for the rest of the nation. We failed to break open the door to legalization, and this will certainly have ramifications for the nation’s potheads. Voters and legalization advocates in other states may decide that if not even the crazy state full of pot-smoking hippies is prepared to legalize the drug, policy reform efforts in the more conservative states aren’t even worth pursuing.
A world away from the circus of California politics, the District of Columbia recently legalized medical marijuana. This legalization came a full 12 years after voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana use in a referendum. The delay, as is usually the case with D.C. politics, was due to Congressional interference. The Barr Amendment, which has been attached to D.C.’s annual budget since 1999, blocked the District from using funds to implement a medical marijuana program.
After Democrats swept Congress in the 2008 elections, the Barr Amendment was knocked down and medical marijuana in D.C. became a reality. With Republicans back in control of the House, though, medicinal use in the District—despite great support from its residents—is threatened once again.
A lack of progress in the West, indicated by Prop. 19’s failure, combined with conservative control of half of Congress, presents a threat to the District’s medical marijuana users. Dispensaries are just now opening across D.C., but Republicans are likely to stall or stop their spread.
The crusade against legalization in the District and elsewhere will likely be strengthened by Prop. 19’s failure. Had the measure passed, it would have sent a message that Americans support, or are at least ready to tolerate, a more open marijuana policy.
Maybe I’m an idealist who thought legalizing and regulating marijuana would be good for the state and the nation. Or maybe I’m a stoner who just wants to buy her weed in peace. Regardless of my motivations, I think it’s high time we reconsidered why there is such a cultural aversion to marijuana—on our campus, in our hometowns, and across the country in general. Let’s update our laws to reflect our harmless cultural practices, and make some money off of it to boot. It’s a good thing that the legalization movement has strong leaders like Snoop Dogg and Zach Galifianakis to fight again when the issue inevitably surfaces in the future.