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FIRST-PERSON (Rodney Jones): Prop 19 will increase danger on Calif. roads

FONTANA, Calif. (BP)–One of the most talked about initiatives on the ballot this November is Proposition 19, the poorly-written measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California, yet surprisingly few voters are aware of the details of this initiative.

Despite the claims of its proponents, Proposition 19’s flawed and ambiguous language will lead to more impaired drivers, increase costs for marijuana law enforcement, and place an enormous burden on law enforcement officers to implement a confusing patchwork of local laws.

Proposition 19 will undoubtedly make our roads and freeways more dangerous. While Proposition 19 prohibits consumption of marijuana by a driver of any vehicle “while it is being operated,” it has no prohibitions against a driver smoking immediately before driving a vehicle. It also contains no mention of whether passengers in a car will be able to smoke while the vehicle is moving, and fails to set a threshold to determine what level of marijuana in a driver’s system constitutes impairment, as the state has done for alcohol. This reckless oversight will undoubtedly hinder the efforts of law enforcement to ensure traffic safety, leading to an increased number of impaired drivers on the road, and tragically, more accidents.

A loophole that threatens public safety even more appears in Proposition 19’s language requiring an employer to prove an employee’s consumption “actually impairs” performance before being able to take action against the employee. This extraordinarily high bar will likely require an accident to occur before an employee is determined to be “actually impaired.” In the case of school bus drivers, taxi drivers, or train operators, this dangerous precedent will lead to more accidents and deaths.

Proposition 19’s ambiguous language is not limited to its sections about transportation. The measure’s title pledges it will “regulate and control” marijuana sales, yet the text of the measure makes no laws about sales, and leaves it up to cities and counties to make their own laws on sales and taxation. This do-it-yourself approach will create a confusing patchwork of laws throughout California’s 478 cities and 58 counties leading inevitably to chaos and an inability among law enforcement to enforce the laws about marijuana sales and transportation. In Los Angeles County alone, there could be 88 different sets of regulations officers would be required to navigate.

California law has already de-emphasized simple possession of marijuana, and California law enforcement officers spend little time and money prosecuting those who are caught with small amounts of marijuana. Proposition 19’s poor writing may have the opposite effect of its intention, forcing officers to enforce marijuana laws where none previously existed.

A natural outgrowth of this confusion among law enforcement officers about which laws apply in which jurisdiction is that any taxes levied on marijuana sales will be difficult, if not impossible to enforce. In fact, the California Board of Equalization recently released an analysis of Proposition 19 and stated that the ballot measure “does not contain any new responsibility, rule, or law applicable on a statewide level … it is not possible to estimate the potential revenue gain.” In other words, the claim that Proposition 19 will bring California $1.4 billion is purely a smoke screen.

Proposition 19 is simply too ambiguous and filled with loopholes to be put into law. Join me, public safety leaders throughout the state, and the editorial boards of more than 20 of California’s biggest newspapers and vote “no” on Proposition 19.
Rodney Jones is police chief of the Fontana (Calif.) Police Department.

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  • Rodney Jones