Proposition 19 raises controversy over marijuana legalization

THE GREEN TREATMENT:  A Tam student, standing in front of what he says are legally homegrown medicinal plants, supports Prop 19. Photos by: Jade Jones-Hawk, Jason Rasmussen, Jenna Tuttle

THE GREEN TREATMENT: A Tam student, standing in front of what he says are legally homegrown medicinal plants, supports Prop 19. Photos by: Jade Jones-Hawk, Jason Rasmussen, Jenna Tuttle

By Jade Jones-Hawk

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THE GREEN TREATMENT: A Tam student, standing in front of what he says are legally homegrown medicinal plants, supports Prop 19. Photos by: Jade Jones-Hawk, Jason Rasmussen, Jenna Tuttle

When asked his stance on Proposition 19, ASB President Liam Burke responded, “I think it’s easier to come out of the closet than come out against Prop 19 at Tam.”

Proposition 19, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 proposes to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state of California. The Proposition will be voted on in the statewide ballot this coming November 2, and may have significant impact on Californian economy and society, both school-wide and state-wide.

Tam student advocates for the proposition argue that the decriminalization of marijuana would significantly lower crime rates in both California and Mexico, provide a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco, create significant revenue for the state of California, and provide new job opportunities.

Student arguments against Proposition 19 include positions against legalization of a Schedule 1 substance, speculation on the price of unforeseen complications arising from legalization, decline in the quality of marijuana, increased abuse by underage users, the unclear wording in the proposition regarding the current medical marijuana law and the enforcement of Prop 19’s suggested regulations of the selling, growing and distribution of marijuana.

Principal Tom Drescher clarified that even if Proposition 19 were to pass, the drug policy at Tam would not change.

“You cannot smoke at all in public institutions; the drug law [in effect on educational campuses] refers to even alcohol. You cannot drink alcohol on school campuses period. I would speculate that the policy with marijuana would be similar; if it’s allowed by law, adults- if they chose to do it- it would be part of their personal life. It wouldn’t be allowed on school campus.”

A common concern amongst some Tam students is that the quality and availability of marijuana in society would change if Prop 19 passed, and some Tam students speculated on the effects widespread cultivation would have.

“[I’d rather] keep it illegal. If [marijuana] becomes legal, [private] companies will take over the industry. [Marijuana] will be expensive and commercialized. Who knows what major corporations will put in it like they do with tobacco?” said senior Candice Golembo.

Self-identified non-smoker and senior Ali Ballyntyne added, “I feel like they’re going to add a bunch of preservatives and the quality is going to decline.”

Ballyntyne continued, “I heard [the government] is going to sell forty dollar ounces. I know people who sell, and that’s their job, that’s how they get money. An [influx of cheap weed into the market] could ruin communities’ business.”

Photo by: Jade Jones-Hawk, Jason Rasmussen, Jenna Tuttle

Indeed, areas such as the notorious region in Northern California known as the Emerald Triangle, consisting of Mendocino, Humboldt and Trinity counties, have economies in which large-scale illicit marijuana cultivation accounts for up to two-thirds of the local economy, with the marijuana industry replacing now-failing industries like lumber. Marijuana growers in Mendocino County generate an estimated $1 billion in profits a year. If marijuana was legalized in California, these illicit profits from marijuana cultivation and distribution could be legitimately taxed, and provide a cash flow of money for the Californian economy rather than to drug pins and private, technically illegal profiteers.

The lucrative nature of marijuana is one of the reasons listed under the Finding and Statement of Intent and Purpose portion of Proposition 19. Finding number Six states that:

“There is an estimated $15 billion in illegal cannabis transactions in California each year. Taxing and regulating cannabis, like we do with alcohol and cigarettes, will generate billions of dollars in annual revenues for California.”

In addition to Finding number Six is Purpose Nine, “to tax and regulate cannabis to generate billions of dollars for our state and local governments to fund what matters most: jobs, health care, schools and libraries, parks, roads, transportation, and more.”

Interestingly, the present medical marijuana community appears to represent multiple views on the topic of Proposition 19. Said an anonymous employee at a local Marin medical marijuana club,

“I don’t support it and I don’t think it’ll pass. The [bill] is worded really loosely when it comes to the existing medical marijuana practices.”

Co-founders of a non-profit medical club in Sausalito, Donald Hatt and Berta Bollinger had much to say on the topic of Proposition 19, its intention to tax marijuana, and the affect the prop would have on the existing medical marijuana community in California.

“The Prop looks good at first glance, but once you really read into it there’s a lot of stuff that’s not really clear and we’re nervous about that because there’s still a lot of research that needs to begin. Where we’d like to see [the legality issues] go and [what we believe needs to happen is] the FEDS need to step up and reschedule marijuana,” said Bollinger.

Hatt and Bollinger also addressed the current wording of the Prop that leaves it up to local governments within California to decide the practice of law on marijuana within their individual communities.

She continued, “The cities and the counties can do whatever they want to;

Sausalito Compassionate Care Clinic co-founders Donal Hatt and Berta Bollinger support decriminalization but not Prop 19. Photo by: Jade Jones-Hawk, Jason Rasmussen, Jenna Tuttle

it doesn’t make a difference- all the issues you see with the [current] medical initiative is because the counties and cities can do whatever they want with it. Everybody has their own ideas about how they want to [regulate marijuana]. Proposition 19 doesn’t address the same thing; it’s going to be a mess.”

Hatt and Bollinger are firmly against taxation of marijuana on any grounds, since they advocate its value is as a medicinal plant. According to them, Proposition 19 doesn’t state whether or not medical cannabis would be exempt from taxation.

Bollinger said, “No one is supposed to make any money at this. It’s a healing plant-the plant is medicinal- even people who use it recreationally, yeah [they are imbibing without a doctor’s prescription], but they’re using it for some sort of relief and healing- it’s just the nature of the plant- and the government still hasn’t addressed that.”

Bollinger added, “In the original law, Proposition 215 was set up, there wasn’t supposed to be a tax. Then the state board of equalization said we needed to be taxed since the FEDS weren’t monitoring it; that it’s like an over the counter medication and that’s how we’re going to treat it, and if we didn’t, we’d be shut down.”

Currently medical marijuana patients in Marin are paying a nine percent sales tax, and have been since 2007.

Bollinger encourages people to advocate for reclassification of marijuana, believing that its current status as a Schedule 1 substance, categorized as on par with heroin, LSD, MDMA, DMT, DOM, Psilocybin and other drugs, is lacking in truth.

“Marijuana has truly been accepted as a medicine- but the federal government refuses to acknowledge it. It would totally behoove the nation as whole to reschedule it federally so that everyone is on the same page,” she said.

One Tam student, who for easier reference will be known as Timmy, is currently a medical marijuana patient. Timmy grows his own marijuana in order to treat an illness contracted in childhood.

Speaking of the effects of his illness, he said, “I couldn’t eat, I lost weight, I had horrible anxiety and I went to the hospital many times.”

Timmy said marijuana used to make him paranoid, but after the death of a close friend who introduced him to it, he became closer to the plant and respected it more. Then Timmy and his mother decided it was time to get him a medical card in order to treat the effects of his illness. It was this initial contact that led to Timmy’s growing of marijuana.

While Bollinger and Hatt may advocate that taxation of marijuana is not an ideal scenario, others advocate that the passing of Proposition 19 would be an advancement in the “green revolution.”

At present, hemp has been processed to create paper, rope, cloth, oil, food and building material. According to the North American Industrial Hemp Council (NAIHC), one acre of hemp can yield three to eight dry tons of fiber per acre, which is four times what a forest yields.

Like Hatt and Bollinger, the large majority of opponents to Prop 19 are against the Act because they believe the wording of the prop is unclear and indecisive and the long-term affects of passing such a proposition are unable to be predicted.

Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley has called on Attorney General Jerry Brown not to approve the title and summary of an initiative to legalize marijuana that will appear on the November ballot.

“The marijuana initiative is terribly misleading, poorly drafted and not in the best interests of California residents,” Cooley said in a written statement. “It will not regulate, not control nor effectively tax marijuana in California.”

A part of those arguing against legalization say that despite the predicted revenues marijuana legalization could produce, there would be a rise in money spent dealing with unforeseen issues. There is also speculation on what the effect on illicit youth usage of marijuana would be.

As the LA Times put it, “Legalization would likely bring with it additional substance abuse in the state, and the long-term public costs associated with that could vastly exceed the amount of new revenue legalized marijuana might bring in.”

Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving are against the bill, saying that law enforcement already deals with youth abusing alcohol and cigarettes, and ask on their website why society should choose to add marijuana to the mix.

“I think teenagers are risk takers- they have a sense of invulnerability- that’s developmental, and there’s part of that that’s expected. But the more you use anything, the greater danger there is of lasting damage,” says MJ Landolina, Tam High’s Marriage and Family therapist and BACR counselor. “Your [students] frontal lobe is not fully developed until you’re 25 years old. With regular use, [people] are changing things in the frontal lobe, which compromises judgment, short term memory, and consequential thinking. [Marijuana] really robs kids of ambition and motivation.”

She also adds, “The idea is that by 21 [the age at which alcohol is legal and marijuana is proposed to be], you’ve got a good idea of what’s a good decision and what’s not. Just because things are legal to do doesn’t mean you should do them.”

According to links posted on the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) website by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, memory impairment from marijuana use occurs because THC alters how information is processed in the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory formation. According to the research study, the majority of the evidence supporting this assertion comes from animal studies involving rats. It was shown that rats exposed to THC- the active chemical component in marijuana- in utero, soon after birth, or during adolescence, had notable problems with specific learning and memory tasks later in life.

While the majority of Tam students are underage and will not be able to participate in the November 2 vote, this doesn’t prevent a number of students from speculation on how Prop 19 would affect their lives.

Senior Luka Jovanovic said, “If too many people start smoking, then things will become washed [tired and or lazy] and progress will slow.”

Senior Daniel Rosic added, “Keep [marijuana] illegal! Legal marijuana would be treated like alcohol- it’d be harder to get for those under 21 because all the local dealers wouldn’t be able to keep up with corporation prices, and people would get DUIS for driving high.”

Rosic also expressed the opinion he believed marijuana would become similar to alcohol, in that students would find ways to get or use fake id’s to purchase marijuana.

Timmy said, “I just want to decriminalize it- I don’t want it sold anywhere but the clubs or even if the clubs shut down, I want it just to be able to be grown and sold amongst people-maybe family businesses could sell it. I don’t think it should be run by corporations like big tobacco.”

Principal Drescher, MJ Landolini, and Hatt and Bollinger all stated a belief that the passing of Proposition 19 would have little affect on the number of underage users of marijuana.

“I don’t want to deny the realities that people are going to drink and smoke pot regardless of legal age parameters that are placed,” said Drescher, “but I think that with it becoming legal, and going through a manufactured process, it would be as available as alcohol is right now; [marijuana would be in] every corner store.”

Written by Jade Jones-Hawk. This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue.