At a hearing in Sacramento Tuesday, the California Assembly and Senate committees on public safety pondered what might happen if California voters make marijuana legal in November. Representatives of several statewide groups spoke for and against the ballot measure known as Proposition 19.
Proposition 19 would make possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana legal for Californians 21 and older, and would allow local governments to regulate pot and tax it. So its advocates and opponents arrive at their positions from many different starting points.
"I am not advocating marijuana for recreational use," said Alice Huffman, president of the California National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP. "I am advocating the decriminalization of marijuana and the regulation of marijuana to keep our kids out of the criminal justice system."
She told lawmakers that the so-called war on drugs isn’t working. Instead, she contended that it’s targeting young blacks and Latinos, even though they use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.
Some unions, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and the Service Employees International Union, also support Prop 19. They say it costs taxpayers too much to enforce laws against marijuana use.
On the “no” side count people who maintain that marijuana is a dangerous mind-altering, addictive substance that impairs the development of young brains, and leads to “drugged driving” accidents.
Then there are people and groups who want no part of the debate over whether marijuana should be legal - but who believe that Prop 19, as written, will create a lot of uncertainty.
"Leaving the questions of sales taxation and regulation primarily to local governments will be very problematic, will set up difficulties for enforcement," Elizabeth Howard Espinosa told legislators.
She lobbies on behalf of the California State Association of Counties. "We do believe that while we manage with lots of different patchworks in county government and state government, this one will be particularly problematic," she said.
On the same day as the hearing in Sacramento, the Orange County Board of Supervisors fell one vote short of passing an ordinance that would have banned new marijuana dispensaries. But the supervisors ordered staff to come up with a plan to deal with Prop 19 if voters approve it in November.