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Think Tank

Should Proposition 64 Pass Or Go Up In Smoke?

In California, marijuana is once again a hot topic. Proposition 64, a measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, would legalize it for recreational purposes.

The proposal, similar to laws already on the books in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, would allow adults 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow as many as six plants for personal use out of public view. The drugs still would be forbidden for minors and couldn’t be consumed in public.

Medical use of marijuana is already legal in California. The proposed new law would regulate the sale of it for recreational use, using much of the same regulatory structure implemented at the beginning of this year for the medical marijuana industry. The proposition would also tax cultivation and sales of both medical and nonmedical marijuana and earmark those revenues for law enforcement training, drug deterrence programs for youth and to help diminish the environmental affects of large-scale cannabis growing, including use of pesticides and high-volume water and energy consumption.

Proponents of the measure include the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, state Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, former Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders and Napster co-founder Sean Parker. Supporters raised $11.5 million through August, including $3.3 million from Parker, according to the California Secretary of State’s office.

Opponents have raised $229,385. Among them are the California Republican Party, the California Hospital Association, the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Libertarian Party.

The Libertarians are opposing Proposition 64 even though they have urged an end to the prohibition on marijuana for more than 40 years. The party says on its website that the measure, “does more harm than good, damaging medical availability, and creating additional criminal offenses and regulations.”

It’s clear that supporters and opponents of the measure don’t always line up as expected.

To capture some of the complexities of the marijuana debate, California Healthline talked to two law enforcement professionals, one in favor of the legalization initiative and the other opposed to it.

Former L.A. County detective and deputy sheriff Nick Morrow, a certified drug recognition instructor who now works as an expert witness, private investigator and consultant, spoke on behalf of the organization Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Lauren Michaels is the chief lobbyist of the California Police Chiefs Association, which opposes the marijuana legalization measure.

Both interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you for Proposition 64?

The drug war has failed, with drugs more plentiful, available and cheaper than ever. Too many non-violent drug offenders are in prison. Young people and members of communities of color are most often impacted, and then remain “trapped” in the justice system. Drug use is a public health issue and not a legal one.

Q: How would outright legalization of marijuana affect the current law allowing medical use?

We’ve had lawful medical marijuana in California for over 20 years. The average qualified patient will see little change. New medical marijuana standards will result in a tightly controlled, licensed, taxed and regulated industry that has, to this point, been left to manage itself. Commercial growers and distributors, a.k.a. collectives and cooperatives, would see the biggest changes, with new regulations being phased in over the next two years to allow the small operators and cultivators to maintain their place in the market. Granting of the larger licenses is being held off until 2023. Remember that right now, the proposed regulations are still being argued by all stakeholders.

Q: What are the likely financial ramifications of this initiative, taking into account new tax revenue and savings on criminal justice budgets, but also the cost of marijuana-related health problems and accidents?

Once new licenses are issued and managed, adult use revenues could exceed $1 billion annually. Want to drop a billion dollar bomb on the drug cartels? Take all that money that now goes to them and the drug gangs — both of which don’t pay taxes and don’t really care about the quality of products they produce — and convert it to taxable income and lawful tax revenues to benefit a variety of causes.

Q: How will marijuana be kept away from young people?

There will be restrictions on advertising and access to minors. And really, how do you keep anything away from young people? Drug dealers don’t ask for ID. Just as with alcohol, seeking out safe, licensed and regulated distributors will become the norm for people who use marijuana.

Q: Do you expect the numbers of serious and fatal motor vehicle crashes and emergency room visits to increase in California?

I don’t see the numbers going up significantly. Legalization will not lead to “Armageddon” on the highways. The number of people in California who use marijuana medically or recreationally is already significant, and of course there will be new users. Education and responsible use are key. You won’t be able to use marijuana in bars. More and better record-keeping can help determine the real impact of legalization and new use patterns.

Q: Emerging science says the human brain may not fully develop until age 25 and that marijuana use may have negative effects on developing brains. Does this worry you?

I’m worried about who is interpreting the data and the potential agendas that are at work. Everyone who uses any substance should be watched for potential adverse effects. Every substance has its pros and cons and marijuana is no different. We should take research findings in context and intelligently evaluate the information.

Why are you against full legalization?

Companies channeling money into Proposition 64 want their sales and profits to increase. On the back end, that means more people using marijuana on a daily basis — between three and four joints a day — who account for about 75 percent of the market. Most have family incomes under $25,000 and have a high school diploma or less. A business plan that profits from communities we should invest in is simply counter to our organization’s mission.

Q: How would outright legalization of marijuana affect the current law allowing for medical use?

Last year Governor Brown signed into law a comprehensive structure to regulate medical marijuana, codifying the best health and safety regulations for marijuana in the country. Proposition 64 treats those bills like a buffet. Components favorable to the industry are retained, but costly regulations, like requiring a third party to ensure product testing, are left out. This means that we will have one regulatory structure for medical marijuana and one for commercial marijuana. The commercial marijuana structure will be less restrictive and more profitable, so we’ll see a shift away from medical businesses to commercial businesses.

Q: What are the likely financial ramifications of this initiative?

On a local level, law enforcement anticipates increased costs across the board. In fact, 94 percent of police chiefs in California anticipate that local enforcement costs will increase or stay the same should this initiative pass. Local governments will need to account for regulatory costs, enforcement costs, and increased public safety budgets.

In other states with commercial markets, we’ve seen an increase in cartel marijuana activity and drugged driving. Both of these problems require large amounts of law enforcement time and resources

Q: How will marijuana be kept away from young people, given that they can already get it quite easily even when it is not legal?

As long as we are discussing a commercial market, it won’t. Proposition 64 allows each household to grow up to six plants of marijuana, and for retail sites to be located 600 feet from elementary schools. There’s no restriction on how close retail locations can be to colleges. The initiative also allows for home delivery, meaning you could place an order for marijuana and have it delivered in under 30 minutes to your home. Decreasing use is simply not part of the business plan, which is why the initiative allows for advertising through all traditional channels.

Q: Do you expect serious and fatal motor vehicle crashes — and emergency room visits to increase?

Absolutely. Across the United States, drugs are involved in as many fatal vehicle accidents as alcohol is, and drugged driving is increasing. There is no “.08” equivalent for marijuana, meaning that prosecutions are next to impossible. More research and definitive measurements are needed before we even begin to discuss a commercial market for marijuana.

Q: Do the potential effects of marijuana on developing brains worry you?

Absolutely. Science confirms that the adolescent brain — particularly the part of the brain that regulates complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision-making and social behavior— is not fully developed until the early to mid-20s. Developing brains are especially susceptible to all of the negative effects of marijuana and other drug use. One of the well-designed studies on marijuana and intelligence, released in 2012, found that persistent, heavy use of marijuana by adolescents reduces IQ by as much as eight points.