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Commentary: Proposition 19 has major flaws

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Carly Hill, Arts Editor

The smell of marijuana is in the air, or at least the proposal of it, due to hit voter ballots next week. Whether or not the law passes, proponents and opponents are agreeing on one thing: the bill is flawed.

The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, backed by prominent marijuana activist Richard Lee, an Oaksterdam horticulture teacher, may have started off with good intentions. Citing that, “Despite spending decades arresting millions of non-violent cannabis consumers, we have failed to control cannabis or reduce its availability,” the bill falls short of addressing the needs of the Californian population.

Some advocates of the act address the high amount of revenue that may come from the taxation of cannabis in stores and dispensaries.

“Because each local municipality will have to regulate it, it creates a fundamental flaw in the argument that it will be easy to tax,” Joey Esposito, head deputy district attorney in the major narcotics division, said.

In section C of the Act, the regulation of the legalization of marijuana is given to the local governments, rather than the state government, as alcohol and tobacco are regulated.

“[The writers] thought it would be more attractive to the electorate to vote on a system of local control where if you live in a part of the state that was politically conservative, you would potentially not be concerned that medical marijuana would be sold in your area,” Stephen Gutwillig, California state director of the drug policy alliance said.

By allowing smaller governments to create marijuana laws at their discretion, a patchwork of rules will ensue.

“I think that it should be regulated like alcohol,” said retired judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court Michael Rutberg.

From this stems another argument. If the local governments are in control, they must enforce the rules that are adopted by creating either a new department or a stronger law enforcement.

The Act states that billions will be earned, and police resources will be freed up, allowing for more dangerous criminals to be put in jail, but then the issue arises of how the marijuana initiative will be regulated.

“You would really have to tax the bejeezus out of it, and everyone would have to agree, almost like a monopoly, to cover all the expenses of regulating it and enforcing it,” Esposito said.

The California Department of Alco­holic Beverage Control is in control of all of the state’s alcohol and the regulations that preside over it. There is no similar agency proposed to regulate marijuana.

“Someone’s got to oversee the system, like the equivalent of the ABC, which is the alcoholic beverage control bureau, which doesn’t really exist at a local level,” Gutwillig said.

By regulating alcohol statewide, including its taxes, California can ensure that one city cannot choose to charge a higher tax than another.

“(Letting cities or counties regulate) is not a great idea,” David Demirjian, lawyer with the Los Angeles district attorney’s office said. “In L.A. County, you have 88 different cities, so you would have 88 different laws.”

It is also against the law to enter the workplace under the influence of alcohol, which can get one fired or suspended, according to the ABC website.

However, under Proposition 19, employees cannot be fired for smoking marijuana during their break time, unless they become “impaired.”

“Do you really want to let bus drivers, taxi drivers, people who deal with kids, have the accidents first and then we say shame on you,” Esposito said. “I find that a very poorly worded portion of the initiative.”

The Act states that, “The employer can address consumption that actually impairs job performance.”

Because marijuana does not appear in your system on a readable scale such as alcohol, an employee cannot simply be punished by putting marijuana into their system.

“That sounds like a stupid idea,” Demirjian said. “That’s like saying it is okay for someone to be drunk at work.”

Which also brings about the notion of the Federal Drug Free Act, and the money that businesses are allotting from the federal government to run, if they remain drug free.

“Now you’ve got these (businesses) where the choice is to limit federal funding, or move someplace else,” Esposito said.

Business that receive federal funding from the government – which still bans marijuana – include aerospace, weaponry, and the defense industry, which have a large stake in California, according to Esposito.

However, there is probably no need to panic.

“I don’t think that if the law passes, you’re going to get dozens of local governments rushing to implement a regulatory scheme within the jurisdiction,” Gutwillig said.

The marijuana initiative gives a lot of the work to the cities, most of which are most likely not willing to put forth the effort.

What is agreed upon, whether or not the marijuana initiative should take effect, is that this one is probably not the correct one.

“I don’t take issue to that opinion [on legalizing marijuana], but this isn’t the right law,” Esposito said.

Carly Hill, a junior journalism major, is arts editor of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at

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