Fourteen years have passed since California's Proposition 215 forged the path for medical marijuana legislation in the United States. That ballot initiative, which passed with 56 percent of the vote, legalized the possession of marijuana in California for medical use. Since that time, an estimated 200,000 patients statewide have been approved to receive the substance for physical conditions varying from HIV/AIDS to chronic pain. The legislation has fostered cannabis-centered collectives, holistic health care facilities and pharmacy-like dispensaries in more than 100 cities across the state. Opponents to medical marijuana legalization have said, in fact, that the proposition was written so broadly that almost anyone can be given approval to use cannabis.
In just over 48 hours the polls in California will close and citizens of that state will have either accepted or rejected Proposition 19, a citizen's initiative to seriously decriminalize possession and cultivation of marijuana for adults. If passed, California will be the first state in the nation to allow an adult to possess up to one ounce of the fibrous herb, and to operate a 25 x 25 foot grow op. Predictably, law enforcement, drug treatment professionals, and concerned parents are up in arms and warning of dire social consequences should Prop. 19 be adopted.
They offer the same arguments that proponents of cannabis prohibition have been advancing for decades. They warn of rampant pot abuse by children, death and mayhem on the highways, sky high cancer rates, and a surge in addiction. Certainly, they argue, if the wild weed is legalized thousands, perhaps millions of pot users will be subject to marijuana's proposed gateway effect and move on to hard drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.
Earlier this month, Mexican soldiers stack bails of marijuana -- 134 tons of it -- to be burned near the city of Tijuana. Credit: Getty Images
When California voters go to the polls Tuesday to decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana use, the ballot initiative will be closely watched in Mexico.
In California, supporters of Proposition 19 say one reason to legalize pot in the state is to help reduce the violent illegal drug trade south of the border, where Mexico's drug war has claimed some 29,000 lives over the past four years.
But in Mexico, there is no clear consensus on how the passing of Proposition 19 would affect the Mexican drug trade.
Californians will go to the polls this Election Day, and decide whether to legalize marijuana for adult, recreational use. The measure’s called Proposition 19, and the debate has largely centered on how it could impact the financial future of the state.
But how has California’s anti-pot policy faired so far? Some argue that prohibiting pot keeps people from using more dangerous drugs. Others say that criminalizing cannabis disproportionately harms minorities.
California voters aren't the only ones considering loosening their state laws against pot possession next week.
While the battle to control Congress is getting most of the pre-election ink, voters in several states will also be deciding how to handle the touchy issue of marijuana's legal status. Fourteen states already have medical marijuana laws on the books, and more are likely to vote in doctor-approved pot use this year or in 2012.
Marijuana plants growing in California one of The Most Marijuana-Friendly Nations Credit: Tony Avelar, Newsweek
Ann Lee, a Texas Republican and devout Catholic, thought marijuana was the “weed of the devil.” Like so many Americans, Lee believed pot was a dangerous “gateway” drug that tempted the unwary into a dissolute existence. But when Lee’s son, Richard, suffered a severe spinal injury two decades ago and became paralyzed from the waist down, she was given a crash course in the devil drug. “I had to open my eyes, and I also had to pray a lot and believe in Richard’s integrity,” says Lee, now 81. “When I saw the good it did for Richard’s spasticity, I said, ‘Well, damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.’?” Since then, Lee and her husband have been steadfast in their support of Richard as he opened a California medical-marijuana dispensary and founded a trade school in Oakland devoted to the study of pot, aptly named Oaksterdam University. Today Richard, 47 and a millionaire thanks to his pot business, is leading the charge for passage of Proposition 19, the controversial California ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for personal use. And Mom and Dad, now avid Tea Partiers, are manning the phones in support of their son and his efforts.
Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders told CNN Sunday she supports legalizing marijuana.
The trend-setting state of California is voting next month on a ballot initiative to legalize pot, also known as Proposition 19. The measure would legalize recreational use in the state, though federal officials have said they would continue to enforce drug laws in California if the initiative is approved.
"What I think is horrible about all of this, is that we criminalize young people. And we use so many of our excellent resources ... for things that aren't really causing any problems," said Elders. "It's not a toxic substance."
Got cancer? Have some pot. Dying of AIDS? Have some pot. Handicapped from the effects of multiple sclerosis? Have some pot.
Chronic headache, heartburn, or painful pimples? Have some pot!
This could well be the case after November 2, if Arizona voters approve Proposition 203, the "Arizona Medical Marijuana Act."
In terms of regulating the number of pot dispensaries and keeping detailed records, Prop 203 is the state's smartest medical marijuana measure proposed to date, and proponents say it's a solid plan to provide seriously ill patients with medication. But like medical marijuana laws in California and Colorado, Prop 203 includes weed treatment for "chronic or severe pain." That's what the vast majority of patients in those states use pot for, not truly debilitating illnesses.
Marijuana buds are shown at a marijuana dispensary in Oakland, California. Source: Reuters
Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 19, a measure to legalize marijuana. Because no state has ever taken such a step, voters are being subjected to a stream of fear-mongering assertions, unaccompanied by evidence, about what is likely to happen if drug prohibition is repealed.
But it need not — and should not — be that way.
Ten years ago, Portugal became the first Western nation to pass full-scale, nationwide decriminalization. That law, passed Oct. 1, 2000, abolished criminal sanctions for all narcotics — not just marijuana but also “hard drugs” like heroin and cocaine.
As California moves toward the legalization of marijuana — next month, voters will decide on Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — a key question remains: could the new law produce a whole generation of stoners? Opponents of legalization say, yes, fearing it will lead to a massive increase in pot smoking among youth. But some supporters suggest the opposite: legalizing cannabis could de-glamorize it and ultimately prompt reductions in toking. Who's right?
That question is surprisingly hard to answer, but two recent research reports offer some potentially useful insight. The first, a Rand Corporation report that led to related testimony before the California legislature on Sept. 21, discusses the effects of price changes and taxation on consumption of drugs.
The latest poll on California's Proposition 19, which would legalize adult marijuana recreational marijuana use and allow local governments to regulate and tax sales, shows the ballot initiative ahead with 52 percent supporting it and 41 percent against it.