California’s largest newspapers want to see marijuana legalized at the ballot box next month.
That includes both the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, which formally endorsed Proposition 64 in September. Both papers argue the Golden State would be better off abandoning prohibition and regulating a legal cannabis industry.
Voters are widely expected to pass Prop. 64 Nov. 8. Polls show strong support for the initiative, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. The proposal is backed by a wide array of politicians and professional groups, including the NAACP and the California Medical Association.
If it takes effect, Prop. 64 would make it legal for adults over 21 to buy, possess, and use up to 1 ounce of marijuana. They could also grow up to six plants at home. In addition, Prop. 64 would impose new regulations and a special sales tax.
“On balance, the proposition deserves a ‘yes’ vote,” the Times’ editorial board wrote. “It is ultimately better for public health, for law and order and for society if marijuana is a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults. Proposition 64 — while not perfect — offers a logical, pragmatic approach to legalization that also would give lawmakers and regulators the flexibility to change the law to address the inevitable unintended consequences.”
The legalization campaign is led by Sean Parker, a Silicon Valley billionaire and one-time president of Facebook. He and his group have raised millions of dollars to promote the initiative, while opponents have brought in only a fraction of that amount.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but the program was long seen as chaotic and poorly regulated. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation designed to impose order on the system, with rules that would also apply to recreational cannabis.
“The reality is that California has already, essentially, legalized marijuana,” the Times said. “Virtually any adult can get a medical marijuana recommendation and buy pot products legally at a dispensary. And those who can’t be bothered to fake a headache or back pain can buy it on the black market without fear of going to jail.”
Recreational use of pot remains illegal in California, but only barely. The state recently downgraded simple possession from a misdemeanor to a civil offense and removed all criminal penalties.
Driving cartels from the state
The Chronicle noted that legalization could drive violent drug cartels out of the state. A legal market, the paper said, would out-compete the black market and send criminals running:
“Any serious discussion of marijuana legalization must begin with the acknowledgment of reality: Prohibition is not working. The drug is popular and readily available for recreational use, either through medical marijuana dispensaries, where 18-year-olds can purchase cannabis with a doctor’s recommendation, often after a nudge-and-a-wink; or a black market that continues to thrive.
“As with the era of alcohol Prohibition until its repeal in 1933, criminal enterprises have exploited the outlawing of a popular product. In the case of cannabis, Prohibition also has wreaked significant environmental damage from clandestine operations that divert water from streams, use chemicals and otherwise tamper with the ecosystem away from regulators’ scrutiny. Prop. 64 would bring discipline and oversight to an industry that is operating in the shadows, to the detriment of public health, the environment and public safety.”
Both editorials are a marked departure from 2010, the last time Californians voted on legalization. That proposal failed by a wide margin, with the Times and the Chronicle opposing it.
Not every large California newspaper backs Prop. 64. The Sacramento Bee and Fresno Bee, both papers located in conservative parts of the state, oppose the measure. The editorial boards of those papers described it as a threat to public health.
What do you think? Does it make any difference whether your local newspaper endorses Prop. 64? Leave a comment below.