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Proposition 19 Provokes Legislative Reform

Regardless of the outcome of the November election, Proposition 19's strong poll showing has already achieved a major victory. California's legislature and governor, seeking to preempt 19's potential to legalize low-level marijuana possession for those over age 21, approved Senate Bill 1449 to reduce possession of less than one ounce of marijuana to a mere civil infraction carrying a fine of up to $100 for all ages. My investigation of fine schedules suggest that's roughly comparable to the penalty for jaywalking. Some academic should obtain a large grant to determine whether smoking pot, evaluated as a whole, is more perilous than not using crosswalks.

The result, confirmed with the Legislative Analyst, is that if Prop 19 passes, possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by adults age 21 and older would be legal and regulated, while possession by persons under age 21 would at most result in a citation. This legislative reform goes a long way toward answering the concerns I expressed in previous blogs that precipitously legalizing marijuana for adult use via Proposition 19 could very well lead to an expanded "War on Drugsinvolving increasingly harsh policing of minorities and young people.

While I'm concerned about age-discriminatory laws--teenage drinking and drug use are so inextricably intertwined with adult use that efforts to separate them are both futile and dangerous--the legislated reform may deter most of the intensive law enforcement and media shift toward scapegoating "underage" marijuana use and mostly-nonwhite marijuana dealers that would otherwise be likely to occur should Proposition 19 pass. After all, the state's ruling politicians have pronounced marijuana a non-dangerous drug for teens and adults alike, worthy of little more than meter-maid enforcement. Why, then, not legalize it altogether?

I continue to argue that groups advocating legal adult use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana shirk a profound responsibility when they hide behind politically convenient homilies that "children" (really? 20 year-old "children"?) must completely abstain or face condemnation and arrest. Expedient "teenage brain" and "adolescent development" arguments against "underage" drinking and pot use are bogus; even stronger physiological and developmental arguments could be made against middle-aged and elderly alcohol and drug indulgence.

The fact is: light and moderate alcohol or drug use in safe settings is fine for most people of all ages; heavy use and risky settings are unhealthy for all ages; and individuality, not demographic characteristic, is the most important factor. Those who pretend that we grownups can enjoy a permissive adult party world while enforcing abstinence on teenagers are responsible for misdirecting alcohol and drug policy. Cultures that handle alcohol successfully for all ages emphasize use in family settings, which is sabotaged by age-discriminatory policies. Both prohibitionists and reformers have made the same mistakes over and over again, with the result that the United States now suffers by far the Western world's most dangerous and deadly tolls for both legal and illicit drugs.

California's loony alcohol regulation system, while pointlessly arresting 13,000 "underage" youths for alcohol possession in 2009, also arrested nearly 300,000 "overage" adults for drunken driving and public drunkenness. Even so, drunken driving by allegedly adult Californians age 21 and older victimized some 235,000 children and teens over the last decade, killing 800, injuring another 80,000, and representing the fifth leading cause of death to California teenagers (that's right: adult drunken driving is the fifth leading killer of teenagers). True, marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, but I can't fathom why reformers would want to extend our unworkably dangerous, age-based alcohol regulation system to marijuana rather than initiating a fundamental redesign of our entire drug regulation framework.

That said, the increasing obsession with warring on weed that federal and California policy makers and law enforcement have shown is so disastrous to responsible strategies to ameliorate burgeoning hard-drug abuse that major redirection is imperative. Proposition 19's supporters deserve congratulations for provoking the legislature's welcome reform, and their inititive deserves a "yes" vote.

Keywords: marijuana, Mike Males, Proposition 19

Posted in Blog, Drug Policy

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