Editorial: California should decriminalize recreational marijuana use (East Bay Times)
Once again, California voters must decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. They have previously rejected such initiatives, and while Proposition 64 -- this year's incarnation -- isn't perfect, it is a much more thoughtful proposal that should be passed.
Prop. 64 would allow adults 21 years or older to use pot, grow up to six plants in their homes and possess about an ounce of marijuana and about a quarter ounce of hash.
The proposition piggybacks on the regulatory framework for medicinal use that state lawmakers finally developed last year.
Rules prohibiting public tobacco smoking would apply to pot, and driving under the influence of marijuana would still be banned, although that element still needs refinement. The initiative has no objective DUI blood-test standard for marijuana such as the .08 percent level for alcohol. But that's because there's currently no threshold for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, that reliably indicates impairment.
Prop. 64 also would regulate marijuana businesses, give cities and counties control over their location, levy taxes on pot production and sales and penalize those who operate without licenses.
In this new regulatory territory, the Legislature likely will tweak the rules as needed. Fortunately, Prop. 64 permits such change. It's smart flexibility that many initiatives lack.
Current law lags behind societal norms. Forty-four percent of Americans polled last year told Gallup that they had tried marijuana. Even the current and past two presidents toked, although Bill Clinton infamously claimed he didn't inhale.
Our police, judges and jailers have bigger issues than pot-smokers. We would have preferred uniform federal rules legalizing marijuana. But there's no sign of that.
So once again, the states must lead. In 1996, California voters were the nation's first to legalize medicinal use. Today, half the states permit it.
As for recreational use, California is following rather than leading. Four other states and the District of Columbia now permit it. Meanwhile, in 2010, 53.5 percent of California voters rejected a legalization initiative.
Opponents suggest Prop. 64 would open the airwaves to pot ads, because the initiative would only impose restrictions similar to those for alcohol. But it's doubtful an outright broadcast ad ban, like that for tobacco, would withstand court challenge.
Opponents also note that a prior drug conviction cannot be the sole grounds for rejecting a license for cultivation or sale of pot. But that's because the law acknowledges that people were previously ensnared by overly punitive drug laws. The state could still deny licenses to people with convictions involving trafficking or minors and would still have discretion for others.
Opponents will try to pick holes in Prop. 64, but the initiative is generally solid -- and long-overdue.
California voters should approve Proposition 64.