SACRAMENTO, Calif. (BP)–Despite California’s top leaders warning about devastating effects if it passes, an initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state has the support of a plurality of likely voters in two new polls.
Proposition 19, which would make California the first state in the nation to legalize the growth, sale and recreational use of pot, leads 47-42 percent in a SurveyUSA poll and 47-38 in a Public Policy Polling poll. Both polls had a high number of undecided voters: 11 percent in the SurveyUSA poll and 14 percent in the PPP poll.
If Prop 19 passes, individuals would be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow their own pot in a lot no bigger than 5-by-5 feet. Local governments would be allowed to regulate and tax it, and stores would be able to sell it. Prop 19 opponents warn its passage would lead to more marijuana users — especially among teens — along with more crime and more drugged drivers.
Both polls used automated surveys, which some observers believe may be more reliable on such a personal, hot-button topic as marijuana use, because people may be hesitant to tell a stranger on the phone that they support marijuana legalization.
The initiative has made for an odd coalition, on both sides. The California Cannabis Association — a pro-medical marijuana group — announced its opposition, saying Prop 19 will make it harder to obtain pot. Both of California’s U.S. senators, each a Democrat, oppose it, as does Democratic state Attorney General Jerry Brown. The Democratic and Republican candidates for governor also oppose it.
The Oakland Tribune, Sacramento Bee, San Francisco Chronicle and Contra Costa Times are among the major newspapers that have announced their opposition.
“The measure on the Nov. 2 ballot is full of worrisome loopholes and ambiguities that would create a chaotic nightmare for law enforcement, local governments and businesses,” the Sacramento Bee’s editorial read. “It is so poorly drafted, in fact, that it almost makes you wonder: What were they smoking?”
The editorial added, “The passage of Proposition 19 would also saddle businesses with even more legal murkiness in trying to keep marijuana-impaired employees out of the workplace, especially from behind the wheel of school buses or other jobs that could affect public safety. The active ingredient in marijuana can stay in the body for weeks, so current widely available tests can’t tell how recently a worker might have inhaled.
“The same uncertainty applies to enforcing driving-while-impaired laws. The measure has no definition of what would constitute driving under the influence of marijuana, unlike the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol standard for drunken driving.”
The state’s social conservatives also are standing against it. One of the state’s top pro-family groups, the Campaign for Children and Families, launched a website (www.MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com) with downloadable church bulletin inserts and an 85-second web ad. Bumper stickers also are available on the website. Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, said the Bible’s command to “be not drunk with wine … but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) applies as much to marijuana as it does to alcohol.
Prop 19 opponents warn its passage would:
— create a black market for cheaper marijuana.
— ban pre-employment marijuana testing. The text of Prop 19 says employers can take action on employees only if it can be proven an individual’s pot smoking “impairs job performance.”
— allow workplace marijuana smoking breaks.
— allow residents to grow marijuana plants in their back or front yards, all with the protection of state law.
— increase the number of drugged drivers on the road. Prop 19 forbids the consumption of marijuana by drivers while the car “is being operated” but permits marijuana consumption before a person drives. Also, passengers would be allowed to smoke pot while the car is moving.
— increase drug trafficking elsewhere, particularly into other states where marijuana is not legal.
— increase the amount of in-state crime and necessary law enforcement. Police officers opposed to Prop 19 say that as the number of marijuana users increases, crime by those under the influence will increase. They also say they will be required to enforce new laws: whether an individual possesses more than one ounce and whether an individual’s marijuana crop falls within state limits, for instance.
— increase the number of teen users. After Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that individual possession of marijuana was legal, teen use of pot rose to more than twice the national average, despite the fact teens still were prohibited under law to smoke it. This year, the federal government’s annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health showed that teen marijuana usage was up in 2009, with 7.3 percent of teens (ages 12-17) saying they had used marijuana in the past month, compared to 6.7 percent in 2008. The report also said the overall drug usage rate was up — a stat it said was driven largely by an increase in marijuana usage. (Read more at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33719).
The SurveyUSA poll was conducted among 610 likely voters Sept. 19-21, while the PPP poll involved 630 likely voters interviewed Sept. 14-16.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Read BP’s in-depth story about Prop 19 at http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=33719. Learn more about the No on Prop 19 campaign at www.NoOnProposition19.com or www.MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com.