The California Marijuana Legalization Initiative will be on the November 2 ballots this year. It basically says that if passed, it will be legal for any persons over the age of 21 to grow, carry and use marijuana for their own personal use (i.e. recreation). It will no longer be a crime to engage in the seminal rite of passage that is mandated for American teenagers and young adults. It will be treated like underage drinking, as long as no one gets hurt; no harm, no foul, all harmless fun, all part of growing up.
Aside from the thorny issue of pot growers and users violating federal law-as it is still considered illegal by the federal government, is it wise for the state of California to only see dollar signs when considering this initiative? The road to hell is paved with good intentions, the possibility of too many unintended consequences of this initiative cannot be overlooked or brushed off. Yes, the potential tax revenues that can be gotten from legalizing marijuana is eye watering and many view it as the silver bullet that will cure the state's financial crisis. Besides from curing the state of its current crisis, it is seen as guarantee that another crisis won't likely occur again if the state can continue to collect tax revenue from marijuana sales-it's like an insurance policy that will never run out. However, does the state, or any government, at the official level really want to condone total decriminalization of marijuana use and allow the youth (and possibly some adults) of California to look like an episode out of "The 70's Show"? Many supporter's argue that alcohol and tobacco are legal substances for which consumers are charged a surtax should they wish to consume these products and now marijuana will join that list.
Another argument, and even some retired judges support this, is if marijuana is legalized, the drug war in in Mexico will subside, since the US is the largest drug consumer in the world. But legalization of marijuana will need to happen both ways, if the US legalizes marijuana, Mexico will have to legalize marijuana. Second, the only way and the only reason the drug war could be fought in Mexico right now is because 90% of the weapons used by the drug cartels come from the United States. Unlike the US, It is not legal for Mexican citizens to purchase and carry guns for their own protection, only law enforcement and the army can carry guns. So, in order to make a dent in the drug wars south of the border, two things need to happen simultaneously, Mexico needs to legalize gun ownership for all citizens and legalize marijuana at the same time California does. The chances of those two things happening are slim to none. President Fellipe Calderon's legacy may be his declaration of war on drug cartels-or at least he would like to believe that to be his legacy, but whether he likes it or not, the sale of drugs (unofficially) reigns on top when it comes to their GDP revenue, before oil revenues and tourism.
Most health care professional agree that tobacco is the the most poisonous substance to ever exist, and as addictive and deadly for the long term health of regular tobacco users, it is not a mind altering substance. Smoking tobacco does not allow you to become impaired in certain capacities or contribute to or accelerate other mental health conditions. Besides the farcical and stereotypical side effects of long term marijuana use, i.e., chronic laziness, chronically underemployed or unemployed, having foggy eyes and believing that peace on earth is achieved, there are other serious health risks that are often overlooked. Many studies have shown that long term marijuana use-especially the more potent form marijuana called "skunk" can cause psychosis in some patients who are predisposed to mental illnesses-usually people who are a genetic risk. Some addiction experts also believe that marijuana users will graduate to more potent dangerous drugs such as cocaine or heroin once the high of marijuana is no longer enough for them. Many people who are chronic drug addicts, such as former child actor Corey Haim, the first drug he ever tried was marijuana, shortly before he died, he described himself as a chronic relapser. Dr. Drew Pinsky, an acclaimed and renowned addiction specialist based in Pasadena, Ca, has the following to say about marijuana use:
"The syndrome of marijuana addiction is always the same: A profound euphoria is experienced, usually after the second or third exposure to it, and from that moment on the addict pursues, preoccupies, or uses that drug every day. Somewhere down the line, the addict gets depressed, has trouble sleeping and being motivated. Of course, the addict's response is to smoke more or better pot to deal with "the stress," which only accelerates the decline into depression."
No one can argue that alcohol is a 'safe' substance or a non-mind altering substance, everyone knows the consequences of alcohol intoxication. It's not cute nor pretty and sometimes deadly. But medical experts and law enforcement know enough about alcohol usage and the effects of alcohol abuse to know how to deal with alcohol intoxication incidents. There are standardized breathilizer tests that can be administered on site, a legal blood alcohol limit has been established and the laws are already designed to punish DUI offenders in varying degrees. Many jobs don't allow people to drink on the job and if people are found to be drinking on the job, they know that there are severe consequences sometimes resulting in immediate termination. In other words, people are already socialized or have trained themselves on when it is appropriate to use alcohol and more importantly, the consequences that result from drinking at inappropriate times and places.
With the current cavalier and nonchalant attitude towards smoking cannabis, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes will only exacerbate that attitude; especially when law enforcement has not yet determined how to measure cannabis intoxication and how to punish someone under the influence of cannabis. It is because of the severe financial, social and legal consequences of inappropriate inebriation that has reigned in the attitudes of people when it comes to drinking. The "martini lunches" featured on the hit TV show "Mad Men" no longer applies today because if people return to the office reeking of alcohol, it will not be looked upon favorably. And contrary to common perception, everyone does NOT smoke pot as a rite of passage to adulthood. There are plenty of people who have reached adulthood unscathed through many other vices and follies without ever feeling the need to smoke marijuana.
Finally, did the supporters of this initiative consider the costs that might be incurred if marijuana is legalized for recreational use? Companies might have to administer drug tests on a regular random basis to make sure their employees are not high while they are working. What about the lawsuits that could be filed, if someone makes a grievous error while under the influence of marijuana and it's not just confined to medical or legal arena but across all industries. Do we want our airline pilots to fly an airplane after they've smoked a joint? As consumers, do we have the right to know if the people serving us have been using marijuana. What if one employee causes injury or harm to another employee because he or she was under the influence of marijuana? What about school teachers? Since it will be legal to buy marijuana as long as you are over the age of 21, can teachers be fired if they were found to be smoking pot before they arrive to teach their first lesson in the morning? What kind of message does that send to the children-when their teacher rolls into class in the morning after smoking a joint? Attention to California Teacher's Association: any objections to this initiative, since this law, if passed, directly affect the pupils you claim to care so much about? There are potentially so many unfavorable scenarios-the unintended consequences that could occur should this initiative pass without all the law enforcement tools in place.
It's not that legalizing marijuana is a fundamentally bad idea. Controlling who and where to buy this substance is much better than going to dealer on the street corner. And a good argument could also be made that incarcerating non-violent marijuana users is poor jurisprudence but before California jumps head first into unchartered territory, all the possible consequences-good and bad need to be thoroughly examined before they send it to the ballots. Once it passes with the voters, only the voters can repeal the initiative, California legislature cannot repeal a law that was initiated by the voters. Even with the current dire financial situation in Sacramento, voters and the state legislative body still needs to exercise caution and good judgement before they gather signatures and send initiatives to the ballot.