If People Oppose the Marijuana Initiative in California, Are They Prohibitionists?

The Marijuana Policy Project has largely sat out the campaign to end marijuana prohibition in California this election cycle, but the recent escalation of infighting among allies who claim to support marijuana legalization has inspired me to speak out, and firmly.

The best way to explain is to tell a true story about something that happened just across the border, in Nevada, in 2006.

MPP was in the midst of campaigning for our ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Nevada. (Only six statewide initiatives to end marijuana prohibition have ever been voted on -- one in California in 1972, one in Oregon in 1986, two in Alaska in 2000 and 2004, and two in Nevada in 2002 and 2006. The highest voter-getters were the 2004 Alaska initiative and the 2006 Nevada initiative; each received 44% of the vote.)

Surprisingly, one of the leading libertarians in Nevada -- someone who had real access to mainstream media outlets -- told me he was going to oppose our initiative. The reason? As a libertarian, he didn't like taxes, and he didn't like regulations.

I explained to him that it's one thing to be disappointed with the exact wording of the initiative, but it's another thing to actually oppose the initiative. He didn't budge.

I then pointed out that if he opposed the initiative, he would also have to endorse making alcohol illegal. "How interesting," he said, wondering what I meant.

I expounded that -- by campaigning and voting against the marijuana initiative -- he would be choosing to keep marijuana illegal instead of taxing and regulating it. So, if prohibition is somehow preferable to taxes and regulations, he should prefer alcohol prohibition over alcohol being taxed and sold in bars and restaurants.

I never heard from him again, even to this day. But, to his credit, he ended up not campaigning against the initiative, I think because he's well known to be intellectually honest and consistent.

The same dilemma now faces anti-prohibitionists in California, except, unfortunately, some anti-prohibitionists are choosing to advocate for prohibition, because Prop. 19 isn't "perfect enough," they imply.

One need not be a lawyer to find something not to like about Prop. 19, if one looks hard enough. The initiative gives local governments the option to prohibit or legalize the sale of marijuana; perhaps you prefer not to give local governments any option at all? The initiative allows all adults to possess up to one ounce of marijuana; perhaps you prefer a pound or more? The initiative allows all adults to grow 25 square feet of marijuana; perhaps you prefer not allowing grow-your-own at all?

These kinds of debates are legitimate and -- to be sure -- it's literally impossible to reach a consensus on any of these points before or even after a statewide initiative is drafted and qualified for the ballot. So the issue isn't whether a consensus can be reached.

Rather, the issue is whether anti-prohibitionists really want their souls to be burdened with voting to prohibit marijuana -- which is what they'd be doing by voting against Prop. 19 on November 2.

Have you ever heard a marijuana user say the following? "I don't want marijuana to become legal, because it would take the fun out of it. It would make it less glamorous."

I respond to such pea-brained declarations of adolescent rebellion by saying, "Oh, because you want to have more fun, you therefore want the government to continue arresting more than 800,000 people every year for what you, yourself, are doing? And you want to spend my tax money -- and yours -- to accomplish this?"

How selfish.

Of course, to be fair, people who say they like the glamour of being an outlaw don't really want more than 800,000 of their brethren to be arrested every year for marijuana. It's just that the glamour-seekers are losing sight of what's really important: They're choosing a public policy that resonates with them (keeping marijuana allegedly "cool" because it's illegal), while inadvertently overlooking the horrible byproduct of that choice (arresting the equivalent of every man, woman, and child in the state of Montana every year, forever).

So, to bring it back to California, it's important that opponents of Prop. 19 at least be intellectually honest: By opposing the initiative for whatever reasons one has, the tradeoff is that more than 60,000 people will continue to be cited for marijuana offenses every year in California. That's not something that I'd want to have on my conscience.

Going back to the top of this column: Many people who remember the 1972 initiative in California, which lost with 34% of the vote, muse nostalgically about how great it would have been if that initiative had passed ... how it would have changed the whole course of events, especially in the midst of President Nixon's administration. But have you read that initiative? It was inferior to this year's initiative in California.

And you know what? Coincidentally, they're both labeled "Prop. 19." The first Prop. 19 failed 38 years ago; do we really want to lose again, in just a few weeks?

Please visit Yeson19.com to support the current campaign.