Pull up a chair and stayed tuned over the next few weeks as I walk you through the candidates and ballot proposals for 2010…
This should have been the easiest of all the propositions on this fall’s California ballot for me to write about, but it’s not turned out that way. It’s a very personal story, and I invite you to walk down this path with me as I explore my reasoning.
In some ways you could consider me a poster child for the cause, something that came to mind recently when my parents unearthed a tattered copy of a May, 1972 feature that appeared in the San Diego Evening Tribune (remember when we had two daily papers?). There I was, spouting off as the “radical” editor of the “underground” San Diego Door, expounding on politics, the counterculture, and drugs: “Drugs are a new kind of entertainment, like watching television…”
Times have changed, and so have I, but I still harbor a deep seated belief that government has little or no business in people’s personal affairs. It’s my opinion that “morality” laws are, by and large, simply the result of over-zealous religious fundamentalists seeking to use the power of government to enforce their moral code. Arresting people for smoking pot ranks right up there with laws that prohibit selling groceries on Sundays: stupid, useless, and a waste of money. I rant inside: “Get your religious codes out of people’s lives; if your beliefs are so dammed good, you shouldn’t need the police to enforce them!”
After my days as a an underground journalist, I went on to work in the hospitality business, working my way up through the ranks as an assistant manager, general manager and ending up as an executive director of restaurant and hotel operations. In my 30 years in the industry I learned that pot users were no different than other employees: some of them were great workers and others worthless as tits on a slab of bacon. (Cokeheads are a different story!)
As I’ve surveyed the political landscape in recent times, I’ve noticed that the forces lining up against Proposition 19—the Correctional Officers Union, assorted control freaks and defenders of the status quo—are all, generally speaking on the other side of the political divide from where I stand (except for a few principled libertarians). Like these self righteous meddlers:
The World Congress of Families – with affiliates on five continents and members in 65 nations – warned of the dangers to children and families of California’s Proposition 19 on the November ballot, which legalizes marijuana in the state. WCF Managing Director Larry Jacobs noted: “In the past 40 years, liberal social experiments have taken a devastating toll on families and children. Now, the same radicals who brought us no-fault divorce in the early 1970s are pushing drug legalization.”
So, based on the argument that, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” I feel a strong inclination to support this initiative.
On the other side…
I was a late-comer to the whole marriage and breeding thing, and, as a result, I now have a teenage daughter at an age where many of my contemporaries are well into their second and third sets of grandkids. I’d like to think that my daughter will be wise enough to stay away from the drug culture, for reasons that we’ll get to in a few paragraphs. But, in thinking this through, I’ve realized that ultimately she’ll have to make her own choices. I do feel that she shouldn’t have to face the court system or jail. She’s going to have enough other tough things to face in her life, given the sad state that the economy and this nation currently face.
A few years back I went through a fundamental identity crisis. Although I’d stopped using drugs decades ago, I’d slipped into a pattern of depression and self-medication. I got a doc to sign me up for a hefty daily dose of Zoloft and continued my practice of hitting the bars for a few cocktails at the end of the day. Big mistake. (That particular combo works at the “fight or flight” reptilian level of the brain…ugh) Although I’d somehow continued to be functional at work, the combo worked its ugly magic into my consciousness and I became something or somebody who had very little to do with the real me. I’ll spare you the details of my descent into darkness. Suffice it to say, at the urging and with the support of some very wonderful people I have found myself in a much better place. My life isn’t perfect and I don’t pretend to have any answers. But I hope you can see where I might have some doubts about the wisdom of enacting any policies that could alter consciousness. Ultimately, though, I can’t see myself as the morality police here.
And then there are the whackos. You’d think that the very real prospect of passing a law—imperfect as it may be— that made a step towards removing private behavior from the business cycle of the prison/industrial complex would be welcomed by all those who support decriminalization or legalization of marijuana. But, nooooo! There’s a bunch of “advocates” running around the state of California acting like the fringe of the fringe Tea Party set. Or they’re so paranoid that they’re claiming that rival groups are really part of a government plot. I guess it just shows that craziness isn’t unique to any part of the political spectrum. But it does make me wonder if this whole process makes any sense.
Proposition 19’s biggest effect may well not really be about the act of smoking pot. It can be a launching point for a larger and much needed dialogue about US drug policies and their influence on other nations and individuals around the globe. I view Prop 19 as a leveraged action that could ultimately upset the applecart also known as the “War on Drugs”.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the actual workings of government policy in this area, this “War” is between narco-criminal syndicates and various government entities. Like the “War” in Vietnam and the “War” on terrorism the “enemies” that we are “fighting” here are unconventional organizations that are rarely defeated through conventional warfare (or high tech gizmos. or spy satellites and drones.). The mighty drug enforcement armies claim small victories through arrests and seizures, but the larger battles are largely being won by the cartels. Business is good. Take one leader out and four more pop up. They’re virtually the only industry hiring in many areas of Mexico, and the pay is much better that at the NAFTA driven assembly plants along the border. It’s akin to playing “whack-a-mole” at the carnival.
Now I’m not going to say that the cartels are going away if Proposition 19 passes. The mafia didn’t go away when prohibition ended. But if the rationale for the Military/Industrial/Narco complex is attacked via a rear guard action by the voters of the State of California, then there may emerge a better way out of this quagmire with the cartels. If there’s actually room in jails for hard drug smugglers and they aren’t released early due to overcrowding, then law enforcement has a chance of being more effective in this area.
Even more importantly, passing Proposition 19 opens the field of debate as to mere existence of this cumbersome, expensive and ineffective “War on Drugs”. You want to cut Federal spending? Here’s some waste for ya! And while you’re at it, take a look at that financial black hole called the “War on Terror”. I’m not, by the way, suggesting that we stop enforcing laws or that we roll over and play dead with the Jihadists out there. What I am saying is that, given the way our government’s “fighting” these “wars”, we’re playing their game; tying up resources, destabilizing our economy, marginalizing the legitimacy of Washington and taking a very human toll with thousands of maimed or mortally wounded young people.
There is a very powerful military industrial complex that’s grown up out of these “wars”, as it is extremely profitable. Its financial future is vested in continuing conflicts around the world. Maybe, just maybe, there is an opening here that could some day lead to a change in direction for our country based on something other than shadow boxing with unseen enemies.
Proposition 19 has grown the political debate on marijuana policy nation-wide, one that has dominated until now by medical marijuana debates. While the major candidates for office in California oppose legalization, many privately admit that Prop 19 will be a potential game-changing issue to drive turnout among younger, progressive voters in this election. The fact that the California PTA has taken a neutral rather than opposing position on this issue, signals the strength of the winds of change that a blowing in California.
There are rumblings around the beltway that the federal government could sue California if Prop 19 passes. Nine former DEA administrators are urging Washington to challenge Proposition 19 if voters approve it in November. They’re arguing that state legalization of marijuana would violate the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which says “this Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof…shall be the supreme Law of the Land.” Since Prop. 19 conflicts with the federal Controlled Substances Act, they say, it is unconstitutional.
Drug Policy Alliance attorney Tamar Todd recently responded to a LA Times editorial claim that California “does not have the authority” to legalize marijuana:
The Times is simply wrong to suggest that California does not have the authority to tax and regulate marijuana. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that requires states to criminalize anything. We could scrap our entire penal code tomorrow if we wanted to. States get to decide state law, not Washington. This is why California and 13 other states have been able to legalize and regulate medical marijuana despite continuing federal prohibition… …The reality is, however, the federal government does not have the resources to undertake sole—or even primary—enforcement responsibility for state drug crimes. More than 95% of all marijuana arrests in this country are made by state and local law enforcement agencies.
And even if the Feds want to make nasty with this one, the debate will only get louder and larger. So in 2010 Proposition 19 is about more that letting people fire up a joint. Just as Proposition 8 (in 2008) was about human dignity as much as it was about marriage, these initiatives are about changing the game.
Let’s do it. Vote for Prop 19!