Schwarzenegger's Pot Reform Doesn't Cut It -- We Need the Whole Enchilada of Legalization

Schwarzenegger's reducing marijuana to an infraction is great, but it doesn't go far enough. Prop. 19 would bring real reform, converting a black market into a legitimate industry with jobs, tax revenue and economic development.

SB1449, which reclassifies present penalties for small amounts of marijuana as an infraction rather than a misdemeanor, is a signal of the true necessity of Proposition 19. It is an acknowledgment by the legislature and the governor that marijuana prohibition has failed and is not worth spending scarce law enforcement resources on.

SB1449 means that if a guy is caught smoking a small amount of marijuana, he is subject to the same $100 fine as has been the penalty since 1972, under a different name. Prop. 19, in turn, would eliminate the catching and fining part for adult petty possession, freeing up more police resources to devote to crimes that pose a real threat to public safety. Prop. 19 would also address the pressing need to bring our $14 billion per year marijuana industry into the light of day and control and regulate it, taking it out of the hands of violent criminals and drug cartels.

Reclassification is not a negative, but it does not allow the state or localities to tax marijuana, and it does not end law enforcement involvement in possession of marijuana, a widely consumed commodity that is objectively less harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Reclassification also leaves marijuana distribution in a completely unregulated environment, with no consumer protections in place, even as it fails to redirect the revenues from its sale to our cash-strapped cities, counties and state. We need Prop. 19 to convert the prohibition-generated black market into a legitimate industry, replete with jobs, economic development, taxes and innovation. So while it is great to hear the powers that be in Sacramento say marijuana prohibition is not a valid priority, SB1449 is just a step in the right direction that underscores the need for true reform.

And California voters are poised to make that real change, one that will start to repair decades of damage, including ruining countless lives for conduct that did not harm another person's body or property, incarcerating millions of people, and creating and fostering a violent criminal underground.

Prop. 19 is also needed to help reverse the shameless pattern of racially disproportionate enforcement that has been a hallmark of marijuana prohibition. We know from a recent study that in every one of the top 25 California counties, black residents are arrested two, three and even four times as often as whites, even though U.S government studies consistently show that usage patterns are lower among young blacks than young whites. SB1449 would not ameliorate this problem. In fact, police could still target communities of color and may even be motivated to issue more citations than in the past, since they won't cost as much under SB1449. Prop. 19, by contrast, will end futile practices of subjecting otherwise law-abiding consumers to detention, citation and collection of personal data, while wasting law enforcement effort and cost; SB 1449, by contrast, preserves these practices.

All told, Prop. 19 moves the ball forward to reject the failed relic of a system under which we operate today. If it passes Nov. 2, it will be the harbinger of a new era in which it is truly possible to thaw fossilized debates and rethink policies based on evidence, rationality and fair administration of justice.

SB1449 shows that California is ready to make changes to the old, broken-down, wasteful, ineffective and harmful policy of marijuana prohibition. Prop. 19 will show that California is willing and able to make the change meaningful, to build a new, common-sense system of control and taxation. Anything less than that is more of the same.

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