After months of canvassing, the Californian proponents of a radical drugs reform ballot were defeated last week in the November 2nd mid-term elections.
‘Proposition 19’ was a bold move that aimed to legalise the growth and use of marijuana in the west coast state in the hope of becoming a model for the end of marijuana prohibition.
Recreational drug use is a habit as old as mankind, with evidence of marijuana inhalation dating as far back as 3000 B.C. Since then, even the most repressive drug laws have failed to reduce its availability and use.
California and Proposition 19
Marijuana is already legal in California and 13 other states for medicinal use under the supervision of a prescribing doctor. However the system is relaxed enough for recreational users to obtain the drug, and despite recreational use still being illegal, the offence is approximately equal to a parking ticket. If Proposition 19 had been successfully passed, the personal possession of up to 1oz and the cultivation of a plot up to 2 square metres would have been legalised. The drug would also be available in the same quantities commercially, and local authorities could licence business to grow it on larger scales. The state would have imposed a levy of around $2 per gram which authorities calculated would have generated $1.4bn per year – money that would have made a huge difference to recession-hit California. Tens of millions a year would also have been saved in police enforcement and incarceration costs. Between 60,000 and 110,000 new jobs would have been created in the new agribusiness and thousands of prison cells would have been emptied following the release of non-violent ‘criminals’ that chose to smoke the plant. This would have provided the police force with much needed time and money to apprehend more serious, violent criminals.
Experts have attributed over 30,000 murders in the last several years to Mexican drug cartels that are responsible for the majority of illegal marijuana smuggled into the US. The drug trafficking routes are heavily controlled and are under constant violent dispute. Legalising marijuana through Proposition 19 was predicted to cut funding to these cartels and cause a significant chunk of their business to vanish. This would have inhibited the cartels in purchasing arms, recruiting members, and offering bribes. All in all, it was predicted that a large amount of drug related violent crime on the border would cease.
These benefits coupled with a large amount of scientific research indicating that marijuana has many medicinal advantages (and is far less damaging in both the short and long term than alcohol and tobacco) pointed towards California breaking free of what has been seen by many as needless prohibition based on a drugs policy founded on fear, rather than reasoning and evidence.
According to the election results from the Californian Secretary of State, 53.8% voted against, and the remaining 46.2% voted for.
While of course I am disappointed that Proposition 19 didn’t see the legal light of day, the advocates who worked hard in promoting the benefits of decriminalisation of marijuana have at least successfully managed to entice debate around the subject – the blogosphere and twittersphere have been set alight with discussion over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully the supporters will have managed to make some people change their view of all marijuana smokers being nothing but work-shy layabouts with little to offer to society. Obviously there are some consumers that fit this bill perfectly, and call me naïve, but I like to think that these type of people would find another substance to abuse if cannabis didn’t exist – probably one with more severe social threats if Professor David Nutt’s recent Lancet report (alcohol is more harmful than heroin or crack) is anything to go by.
Time for change in the UK?
I sometimes wonder why our own government is so far behind other countries in it’s attitude towards drugs, especially when alcohol is so readily available at beguilingly affordable prices in this country. I’d be interested to see how many prisoners would be let out if marijuana was decriminalised in the UK and also how many extra cells would be freed up if alcohol was more tightly regulated by our soft-at-the-knees, double standard MPs, *cough* Alan Johnson *cough*.
Last week in response to David Nutt’s report on the classification of drugs based on the social harm they cause, a Department of Health spokesperson said:
“The government is determined to prevent alcohol abuse without disadvantaging those who drink sensibly”.
Why can’t we end the hypocrisy and do the same for those who wish to use certain drugs sensibly too?
Our government needs to re-classify its drugs strategy and base it around a more liberal approach that makes the social threat the most important category in classification instead of the individual one. To make a real difference, they need to increase the tax on alcohol, stop happy hours in pubs and clubs, and increase the penalties handed out for alcohol-related crimes. I’d feel much safer walking through a town centre on a Friday night if most people had smoked a joint instead of having 8 pints and the subsequent need to try and puncture my face with their fists.
Maybe leave the tax and happy hours alone until I’ve finished university though eh David? There’s a good chap.