A reader writes:
I know you favor decriminalization of pot, but Proposition 19 is not the way to get it done in California.
The proposition is actually a bit of a mess. It doesn't create a central state regulatory body or entrust an existing body with the responsibility of regulating pot. It leaves the responsibility to all the local governments to regulate. Ugh. The word is "patchwork." And it creates this odd protected class of employee pot smokers by preventing discrimination in employment based on use unless the employer can show "actual impairment" of job duties as a result of use. This is a nightmare litigation scenario.
It isn't as bad as the opponents say ("your kids' bus driver will be high!") because driving under the influence and other activities will still be illegal, but there are concerns that the proposition will require employers to show actual impairment of job duties if the employer requires that employees refrain from smoking at lunch or right before coming to work. I'm quite sympathetic to decriminalizing personal use but, as with most propositions, this isn't the way to get it done.
The problem with marijuana consumption and traffic safety is that there is no reliable metric or tool (as with alcohol) to judge whether someone is too impaired to drive. I'm a state of CA employee and I've talked to the folks at the state Office of Traffic Safety (who have done an excellent job reducing DUI fatalities in the state) and they firmly believe that Prop 19 would be a law enforcement nightmare. There are very few police who are trained in recognizing impairment in drivers. How do you decide if someone is too stoned to drive? Who's gonna pay for all that training? Drug policy experts like Keith Humphreys and Mark Kleiman all believe that marijuana consumption will increase with Prop 19 and with this the state will surely see an increase of stoned drivers.
I have believed that pot should be legal since I volunteered for NORML in the early 80s. So I was initially for Prop 19 ... until I actually read the details of the proposition and arguments from both sides. Two concerns are leading me to vote No. One: The idea that each municipality can set its own regulations for commercial sales and its own tax rates strikes me as a disaster waiting to happen (similar to the backlash with medical pot, as cities try to rein in the explosion of dispensaries). My vision has always been a single set of regulations for the entire state (or country, really) and single taxation rates. Prop 19 allows the complete opposite.
As a Californian in San Francisco, I can tell you the simple reason Prop 19 is failing. My stoner friends want it to pass, but my liberal-but-not-stoner friends feel like they don't know what they are voting for. There is no clear picture of what a post-liberalization state would look like. I don't know anyone who thinks medical marijuana has created a problem, and people now smoke openly in the streets (remembering that is legal if you have your medical marijuana ID card). But even medical marijuana has been messy in the actual administration of the laws concerning pot clubs and municipalities. Without a solid image of what a post-legalization society would look like, people on the fence are hesitant to vote for such a dramatic change.