Calif. voters extinguish act to legalize cannabis

Hopes for the legalization of marijuana through Proposition 19 went up in smoke last night after Californians voted down the proposed act to regulate, control and tax cannabis.

The act was designed to permit the possession, cultivation and transportation of cannabis—a term often interchanged with marijuana—within the state of California for the personal use of individuals over the age of 21.The legislation planned to enforce regulations similar to those used to control alcohol distribution. The proposition prohibited users from possessing marijuana on school grounds, using it in public, smoking it in the presence of minors or providing it to anyone under 21 years old.

The New York Times projected that 54.8 percent of Californians voted against the proposition as of 3:30 a.m. this morning.

Supporters of the proposition touted monetary benefits for the state—approximately $1.4 billion annually, according to the Proposition 19 website. These funds would have resulted from the revenue gained from taxes on the production and sale of the substance and its related products and the redistribution of government funding originally used to penalize marijuana law offenders. But because of the intangible nature of the estimations, state revenue gains should not have been a predominant factor for voters, according to Richard Schmalbeck, a law professor and a expert in federal taxation, law and economics.

“It seems to me like these numbers are basically guesses,” Schmalbeck explained. “Even if $1.4 billion were accurate, it would be only around a one percent change.... This [would] help, but not very much. I wouldn’t think that the revenue implications should be what determine the voters’ decisions on [the proposition].”

Instead, initial support more likely came from California’s uniquely accepting approach to the substance and from its potential ability to enable law enforcement to pursue more serious crimes, said David Rohde, professor of political science.

“Pot is commonplace in California in a way that isn’t true for other states,” Rohde said. “Proposition 19 has gotten a lot of support from law enforcement personnel, who argue that... by legalizing [marijuana], they can reallocate their resources.”

Indeed, the act received endorsements from more than 30 individual law enforcement officers. At the time of the election, the movement had acquired a total of 112 public advocates ranging from individuals such as California State Sen. Mark Leno, D-Ca. to numerous party-affiliated groups including the California Libertarian Party, the Republican Liberty Caucus as well as numerous district Democratic parties, according to the Proposition 19 website.

On campus, many Californian students obtained absentee ballots to vote for candidates in their home districts as well as for a chance to support or oppose the act. Sophomore Jake Sganga, who said he voted in favor of the proposition, said one of the movement’s apparent benefits would be its ability to enable government restriction of marijuana abuse among minors.

“I think that the costs of it as opposed to the benefits don’t justify its illegality,” he said. “No matter which way you look at it, marijuana is entrenched in our culture. Getting rid of it cannot be done by prohibition—clearly this isn’t working.”

Sophomore Spencer Peterson, another Californian student in favor of Proposition 19, said that even though the act was not passed in yesterday’s election, he believes a similar measure will eventually pass.

“It’s one of those things that people think will happen eventually... it’s just a matter of when. I think the sooner the better,” he said. “California tends to be a trend-setting state, and that will probably help change the federal laws to stop the ban altogether.”

For other voters, the legalization of marijuana had little appeal. N.C. voter Sampath Rangaswamy said he thought that there was “not enough foundation for medicinal use,” adding that if a movement similar to Proposition 19 came to North Carolina, he would not vote in its favor.

Rohde added that because Proposition 19 is a social movement and not based on partisan preferences, it is almost impossible to predict future long-term changes.

“These kinds of social things have the potential to change so quickly,” he said. “You think about gay marriage—a decade ago [it] was inconceivable, yet now it’s legal in a number of states and the public is becoming much more acceptant of it. I’d be very surprised, given the substantial amount of support for [the act], if it didn’t come back again. The kinds of people who are behind this aren’t going away.”


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