LA Daily News: Prop. 64 — rational way to legalize, control marijuana use: Endorsement

For half a century, efforts to control and prevent marijuana use have relied upon the brute force of criminalization. It is increasingly apparent that marijuana prohibition, much like alcohol prohibition, has been a costly, failed experiment that flies in the face of growing demand for the substance.

It’s now time we legalize recreational use of marijuana in California.

Personal use of marijuana is victimless. It is less harmful to those who use it than alcohol or tobacco, both of which are already legal. And arresting and incarcerating people for possession of marijuana is a poor use of law enforcement resources and space in our already-overcrowded jails.

Six years ago, California voters rejected Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational marijuana in the state. In the time since then, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize recreational marijuana.

Informed by the experiences of those states, Californians are presented with a far more robust initiative in Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which will allow adults aged 21 and older to possess marijuana and grow small amounts for personal use, and also establishes a framework through which marijuana may be cultivated and sold. This is long overdue.

One in 8 American adults already smoke marijuana, according to a recent Gallup poll. That’s 13 percent of Americans, up from just 7 percent of Americans who said they smoked in 2013. The same poll found that 43 percent of U.S. adults have tried marijuana. Do we as friends and neighbors want to continue criminalizing the behavior of so many of our fellow Californians?

Under Prop. 64, marijuana use will be permitted in a private home or business licensed for on-site consumption, but will not be allowed in public spaces, while operating a vehicle or anywhere tobacco use is currently prohibited. In other words, the personal use of marijuana will be permitted in much the same way as alcohol.

Punishing and criminalizing people for marijuana offenses is untenable in a state where adults are free to purchase alcohol and tobacco, which are arguably more harmful than marijuana, and there is an increasing demand for the product. Though there is a perception that marijuana use and possession is hardly a crime today, nearly 500,000 marijuana arrests have taken place in California in the past decade, with African-Americans and Latinos arrested at disproportionately high rates.

Our criminal justice system is poorly suited to address what is more a public health issue than criminal one, and law enforcement resources are probably better devoted toward behaviors which truly pose a threat to public safety. If passed, Prop. 64 will not only steer us in the proper direction, but it will offer hundreds of thousands of Californians the ability to relieve themselves of unjustified criminal records for many marijuana offenses.

Prop. 64 also provides California the opportunity to develop effective controls over the cultivation, manufacturing and sale of marijuana. Building off of the state’s medical marijuana regulatory framework, it keeps in place local control over whether marijuana businesses or large cultivation sites are permitted.

No doubt many parents are concerned about their children gaining access to marijuana. But if anything, regulation and control of the drug should make it harder for youngsters to obtain than it is now.

Additionally, the nonpartisan Legislative Analysts’ Office suggests the recreational marijuana market can yield as much as $1 billion in tax revenues annually. Under prohibition, the state is simply not benefiting from the untapped potential of an above-ground marijuana market, in which taxes may be levied to offset some of the harms of marijuana abuse.

The initiative allocates the bulk of the revenue generated toward things specifically to reduce the harms associated with substance abuse and illegal cultivation. It requires 60 percent of revenues to go toward youth programs, including drug prevention, 20 percent will go to environmental cleanup and the rest goes to research and programs aimed at reducing any potential harms from the initiative.

Prop. 64 is the first step toward a rational drug policy. Prop. 64 gives California the opportunity to not only regulate the marijuana industry, but to make adjustments and clarifications when necessary. Though marijuana is currently illegal under federal law, the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to states choosing to responsibly regulate marijuana. The initiative allows California to do just that.

It is time for a new approach.

Vote yes on Prop. 64.

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