Proposition 19: Why it failed, what it entailed, and will debate prevail?November 2, 2010 —
Any Californian in hopes of finally being able to possess marijuana legally was surely disappointed when the “Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act” was defeated by 53.9%. Did the bill fail because of voter apathy, fear of change, or lack of clarity in the proposition? While this may never be known, the debate over whether Proposition 19 should have been passed will not subside.
Proposition 19 would have made legal under state law for Californians 21 and older the act of possessing up to one ounce of marijuana and growing a 25 square feet plot. However, the proposition was unclear in the fact that it required cities and counties to use discretion when imposing taxes, structuring the retail sales, etc. Up until voting day the ‘Yes’ and “No’ campaigns were nearly split in their support due to not only the Prop’s various benefits and downfalls, but also to its ambiguity.
The ‘Yes’ Campaign
The driving force of this campaign was economic concern and incentive. The state of California is about $19 million in debt, and with an estimated 400.000 individuals using marijuana for medical use and about 2 million doing so illegally, the State Board of Equalization predicted $1.4 billion could be attained annually from the proposed taxation. Not only that, but also a considerable sum of money could have be saved from the prevention of incarcerations.
An advertisement released in late October for the “Yes” campaign narrated the following: “Let police lock up real criminals. Let the state stop wasting money on outdated pot laws. Bring up to 2 billion dollars a year to California. If we vote then we win. So vote and we win.” This ad was placed on channels such as Comedy Central in order to target young voters.
Another point that was brought up during campaigning was the fact that individuals would continue to smoke pot whether or not the action was legalized, so why not regulate it?
The ‘No’ Campaign
The ‘No’ campaign was considerably smaller than its opposition and targeted voters through radio commercials, for the most part. One advertisement focused on the fact that major players in our government, including President Obama, oppose the initiative. One scenario provided involved a bus driver who smoked pot at home up until the moment he sat in his driver’s seat.
This possibility could create the danger of individuals DWS, or driving while stoned, which could become far too common and extremely hard to prosecute. Why? Marijuana stays in your bloodstream for about 30 days whether or not you are still under its influence, so officers would have to use their discretion when pulling over drivers. The real question that needed to be asked was not “How will laws change to prevent DWS?” because there would be no answer, but instead what should have been asked was “Will the proposition cause more people to drive while stoned?”
If pot were to be legalized the selling price would ultimately diminish, making it more accessible and less profitable for sellers. Also, with the ability to grow marijuana individually, marijuana providers could lose profits.
Prop 19’s Vagueness
The Prop stated that local authorities would customize the proposal for their own use, thus creating varying conditions across the state. You could potentially travel from one LA County where you were allowed to possess one ounce of pot and travel to another County that only permits possession of one eighth. This inconsistency created extremely grey areas, which helped lead to the bill’s demise.
The debate over Prop 19 raised various sociological questions relating to the relationship between law and the society. A distinguished sociologist from the late 19th century Emile Durkheim coined the term collective consciousness as a society’s shared beliefs attitudes that create a unified force. Criminal acts, according to Durkheim, are those that seem harmful to the society that represses them. What does Prop 19 say then about California’s collective consciousness, or about the danger imposed by marijuana use? Extensive marijuana use, in most cases, affects only the individual who uses it, not an entire society, whereas murder seems extremely threatening to the well being of a society, marijuana use does not. Yet, with the failure of the bill to pass, it can be observed that our society still feels threatened in some capacity by marijuana possession and use.
While the votes are in and the decision has been made, this debate will not end today and will certainly continue to be talked and argued about and might even make its way across state lines.