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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Smoky Situation

California voters will once again have to decide on the legalization of marijuana

 Should California be the first state to legalize marijuana? Voters will decide in the general election Nov. 2.

California has a longstanding reputation for being one of the most liberal states in the US. It has often been portrayed as a haven for non-conformists and free spirits, and has led the nation in the debate over marijuana. In 1996, when opinions supporting the medical use of marijuana began gaining popularity, voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for patients who had the approval of a doctor.

California's marijuana laws have become increasingly lenient in recent years. While distribution is still a felony, a person in possession of less than one ounce is issued a citation, as it is considered a simple misdemeanor.

Since the passage of Prop 215, medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries have operated under vague enforcement guidelines. There have been numerous debates over the validity of patients' need for marijuana.

Prop 19 would allow for those 21 or older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, cultivate marijuana plants on private property in an area up to 25 square feet, and possess smoking devices and paraphernalia. A doctor's approval would no longer be necessary.

A major motivation for Prop 19 is the tax revenue that could amount to millions for the state, which has faced severe budget shortfalls in recent years. Additionally, proponents of Prop 19 have claimed that law enforcement officers will have more time and resources to deal with more serious offenses.

And how does law enforcement feel about Prop 19?

"We don't have an official stance on the proposition one way or another," said Lt. David Bond of the La Mesa Police Department. "We're going to enforce the law, and we'll enforce it fairly. We'll let the voters decide about the politics."

Owners of marijuana collectives have their opinions, but most are reluctant to talk. With the constant threat of raids from law enforcement hanging over them, most refuse to be quoted.

"I do think that marijuana should be legalized," said one collective owner who did not want to reveal his name. "But this Prop 19 is a sham. There are so many loopholes in this thing that I couldn't even really tell you how I feel about it."

The legality of the marijuana collectives hangs from the thread of Prop 215, which in itself is a loophole in federal law. While California passed the so-called "Compassionate Use Act", the federal government maintained that possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana is illegal. However, according to the California Voter Information Guide, "in March 2009, the US Justice Department announced that the current administration would not prosecute marijuana patients and providers whose actions are consistent with state medical marijuana laws."

Californians will have to wait and see what the true affects of Prop 19 will be should it pass.

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