Californians to vote on marijauna legalization

Californians will vote Tuesday on a proposition so controversial that none of their major gubernatorial candidates have chosen to back it.

Named “The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010,” Proposition 19 calls for the statewide legalization of marijuana. The measure has received strong support from the California NAACP, the National Black Police Association, National Latino Officers Association and the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition organization. Still, the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Police Chief’s Association and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors are opposed to the proposition.

Similar to alcohol regulation, the measure would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess, cultivate and consume marijuana. Individual counties would then be able to decide whether to allow retail sales of the plant, providing that the customer has valid identification.

Along with both gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is still opposed to the measure, although he signed a bill Oct. 1 effectively decriminalizing possession of marijuana to a mere infraction. Even if Proposition 19 doesn’t pass, possession would still only warrant up to a $100 fine.

Second to California in state deficits is Illinois, although the state government doesn’t seem likely to pass such a measure.

Senate Bill 1381, a pilot program permitting the medical use and distribution of marijuana, has sat on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives since May 2009 and missed approval by only a single vote in the last congressional session.

The last month of midterm polls have not shown a firm chance of the proposition passing, as support began to dip after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in a letter to the Associated Press that the federal government would still enforce federal laws against marijuana possession and distribution even if the measure were to pass.

The major benefit, advocates say, is the revenue California would gain from taxing those sales, as opposed to funding its prohibition.

The California Board of Equalization estimated $1.4 billion would be yielded from levies to combat California’s gaping $26.3 billion deficit in their state budget, the largest in the nation.

Local gubernatorial candidate Richard Whitney of the Illinois Green Party, however, stood apart from the Californian candidates, as he advocated legalizing and taxing marijuana as part of his own campaign goals in a local speech he gave to University students last April.

Andrew Re, treasurer of the University’s chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy and senior in Engineering, said if Proposition 19 passed, law enforcement could spend their time pursuing more important issues.

“For one, it would help fix our budgetary problem, and to be honest, it would help socially because alcohol is a more dangerous drug,” Re said.

Tyler Austgen, freshman in DGS, said he felt the initiative would benefit public safety, if passed in Illinois.

“While there are still people who are still smoking weed, at least that money would be funded back into the government,” he said.

Austgen also felt it would help the state deficit, since that money would be “taken from the organized crime that is profiting off of prohibition.”

University Deputy Chief Jeff Christensen said he was unsure how legalizing marijuana would affect community safety.

“Look at all the issues with alcohol. What is going to be the long term effects and residual by-products to law enforcement?” he said.