The results are in: after serious consideration, Californians voted against Prop.19. This proposition has spurred some interesting conversation throughout the country, but in the end, it’s passing would have been ill-advised. In the words of Roger Salazar, spokesman for the campaign opposing Prop. 19, “The cover of the book looked nice, but it didn’t read very well.”
There are some important, straightforward and well-known facts that I hope guided voters in their decision:
1) The international Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (SCND) treaty. In 1961, the U.S. joined with 73 other countries to sign the SCND treaty, which addresses substance abuse on a global scale by prohibiting the production and supply of drugs—including marijuana. The treaty’s only exception is the use of drugs for medical purposes or scientific research. There is no “loophole” to allow for the legalization of marijuana in California. The country couldn’t stand by and let one state pass a proposition that would defy federal law and break a powerful international agreement.
2) The high cost of legal intoxicants. Legal recreational marijuana would join the ranks of tobacco and alcohol, which already impose extraordinary costs—higher than any other legal product. Despite many negative effects (social, financial, cultural, medical) tobacco and alcohol are widely available substances. Introducing another harmful legal intoxicant flies in the face of what we should have already learned with cigarettes and alcohol: legalization increases a substance’s availability and opens up a new, above-ground market, including advertising that targets young people and potential new users. Kudos to California for “killing two birds”—protecting our budget and our kids.
3) The hazards of cigarettes. I think California, the state that first led the U.S. in identifying and preventing the dangers of tobacco inhalation and was the driving force behind many public non-smoking laws, recognized the dangers of another smoke-able substance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke—not to mention it’s inhaled more deeply than tobacco and held in the lungs longer in order to increase exposure. Frequent marijuana smokers have more health problems and miss more days of work than tobacco smokers. Both tobacco and marijuana are just plain bad for you—and smart California voters acknowledged this when they made their decision.
4) California already has de-facto decriminalization. Very few people go to prison for using or selling pot. That’s not to say there aren’t too many people incarcerated because of marijuana—there certainly are. However, these are individuals who were already convicted of another offense and then violated their probation or parole requirements by testing positive for marijuana. As for marijuana use by those who haven’t committed a crime, initial arrests and convictions are very rare.
5) Yes, it is addictive. The practice of sending those on parole back to jail for smoking pot is wrong, and I don’t agree with it. However, it is interesting that these individuals – who know they are going to be drug-tested, whose freedom hangs on their abstinence from drug use – still can’t abstain. This is prima facie evidence of marijuana’s addictive power. If probation or parole required testing for chocolate ingestion, would these individuals be able to abstain? Or would they crave chocolate so much that they would risk going back to jail? Unlike chocolate, marijuana is a drug. Its use can lead to a very real addiction.
Thank you, California, for doing your part to keep marijuana addiction at bay. As a substance abuse treatment professional, I am thrilled and relieved, and I hope Proposition 19 was rejected because voters looked beyond the surface, examined available information, and made a responsible decision.
Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House