I’ve noticed a consistent but baseless distortion being spread by opponents of California’s Proposition 19, which would legalize, regulate and tax cannabis. They complain that Prop 19 is poorly crafted and/or would produce an unenforceable “patchwork” of regulation. The reality is that, compared with most propositions in California’s history, Prop 19 is very sensibly written, with the express purpose of giving state and local governments maximum flexibility to make legal marijuana workable. The fictitious, nightmarish “patchwork” of regulations caused by allowing local governments to craft local ordinances is no different than how local governments handle almost everything in our economy, including alcohol, parking, pizza ovens, farmers markets and building codes.
The “poorly crafted” and “patchwork” myth is often pushed by people who can’t think of any other argument for maintaining the failed prohibition against marijuana. So instead, opponents try to push nonsensical, technical-sounding arguments to scuttle Prop 19.
We see the Ventura County Star editorial board, along with many others, pushing this nonsense:
The initiative is loosely written, leaving major gaps in how such a significant policy shift would be implemented and enforced. Because Proposition 19 fails to address important, basic questions, The Star considers it an incomplete proposal that voters should reject.
But we don’t mean to say it’s a crackpot idea. There could be actual benefits from taxing and regulating the sale of cannabis. Supporters of Proposition 19 may want to try again later with a fully developed plan.
Another significant defect in the measure is that it grants too much leeway to local governments to allow the possession and cultivation of larger amounts by individuals – as well as to authorize commercial marijuana farms, warehouses and retail stores. A mishmash of rules would inevitably result, only multiplying the mess created by medical marijuana dispensaries that have mushroomed across California.
Where do these distortions and ridiculous worries about differing local ordinances come from? They come directly from the long-time drug warriors leading the opposition to Prop 19, such as the California Police Chiefs Association. From No on Proposition 19, we have this:
“Proposition 19 places a huge burden on law enforcement,” explained Sheriff [Lee] Baca. “It would create a patchwork of thousands of conflicting local laws, with no state standards. I agree with Senator Feinstein that no good can come from this jumbled legal mess.”
Regulatory schemes for products or businesses are continuously refined. State and local regulations or taxes change often. The framers of Prop 19 understood this. They did not try to create a permanent regulatory structure, even though California is the only state that does not allow the legislature to tamper with an initiative unless the initiative contains a provision allowing changes. Instead, the measure would legalize marijuana for adults over 21, but it also gives flexibility to the state and local governments to decide which regulations work best.
Ideally, this is how marijuana legalization should be done. Make the use and sale of cannabis legal, but give local governments the flexibility to regulate and tax it. This allows local cities to ban marijuana stores in the same way we currently allow them to ban bars, highrise buildings, zoos, strip clubs, and street vendors.
If those opposed to Prop 19 would read the initiative (PDF), they would see that Section 5 is designed so the state can easily craft and modify a statewide regulatory and taxation system at a later date, if needed:
SEC. 5. Amendment.
Pursuant to subdivision (c) of Section 10 of Article II of the California Constitution, this act may be amended either by a subsequent measure submitted to a vote of the people at a statewide election; or by statute validly passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, but only to further the purposes of the act. Such permitted amendments include, but are not limited to:
(a) Amendments to the limitations in Section 11300 of the Health and Safety Code, which limitations are minimum thresholds and the Legislature may adopt less restrictive limitations.
(b) Statutes and authorized regulations to further the purposes of the act to establish a statewide regulatory system for a commercial cannabis industry that addresses some or all of the items referenced in Sections 11301 and 11302 of the Health and Safety Code.
(c) Laws to authorize the production of hemp or nonactive cannabis for horticultural and industrial purposes.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano already has written a good bill that would create a statewide regulatory system similar to that for alcohol through the existing Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
This deals with nonsense about the lack of a state-wide system of enforcement. Even though Prop 19 technically does not create such a system, it allows for and basically begs the state legislature to create one. Ammiano’s bill would do just that through the ABC, as the California Police Chiefs Association claim they would prefer. With supporters and opposition to Prop 19 both claiming they want a statewide regulatory and taxation system if it passes, a bill to that effect could be passed easily by the legislature (unless the state government is literally broken beyond repair).
The second point about the “patchwork” complaint is that the patchwork Prop 19 would create for marijuana is no different than the so called patchwork that exists with almost every other legal product or service. The town I grew up in was a “dry” town, it didn’t allow bars but many nearby towns did. My current home limits parking to two hours without a permit. A less densely populated town in the same state twenty minutes away has no street parking limits. The zoning in my current neighborhood allows for buildings over six stories but the town I lived in previously did not. New York City has a higher tobacco tax than other municipalities in New York State. NYC permits licensed street vendors while other New York towns don’t.
I could go on and on, but the point is that everything from lawn size to beer sales is subject to different local regulations. Prop 19 would simply mean that marijuana is treated no differently in this regard than any other legal product. The people who somehow seem horrified about letting towns write their own ordinances about marijuana sales amazingly have done nothing to fix the terrifying “legal nightmare” we apparently currently live in regarding almost everything else. These attacks on Prop 19 are in fact weird, broadly metaphysical complaints about the entire purpose of this country’s local governments.
For those who claim to oppose Prop 19 for how it was drafted, I directly challenge them to actually read the measure and specify how they would have written it better. For my part, I think that legalizing marijuana, while giving the state and local governments great flexibility in creating workable regulations, seems like the most sensible path forward from our current, failed marijuana policy. Despite the propaganda, Prop 19 is, in fact, well crafted. Don’t let those who oppose marijuana legalization hide their true intentions behind a smoke screen of ridiculous technical complaints.