Tensions Rising Over Legalizing Pot

Adversaries clash over legalizing marijuana as a recreational plant

By Matt Baume
|  Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010  |  Updated 7:25 AM PDT
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SAN FRANCISCO - APRIL 20: A marijuana user smokes from a bong during a 420 Day celebration on "Hippie Hill" in Golden Gate Park April 20, 2010 in San Francisco, California. April 20th has become a de facto holiday for marijuana advocates, with large gatherings and 'smoke outs' in many parts of the United States. Voters in California will consider a measure on the November general election ballot that could make the State the first in the nation to legalize the growing of a limited amount of marijuana for private use. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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To legalize or not to legalize?

This November, voters will decide whether to legalize small amounts of marijuana and pot plants.

On the surface, it's no surprise who's for it and who's against. The ACLU supports legalization; while law enforcement opposes it.

But some organizations haven't taken any position at all. The California Democratic Party is staying neutral, possibly to avoid accusations by Republicans that they're protecting drug dealers. The statewide California Labor Foundation also decided not to endorse a position, instead allowing smaller local unions to support or oppose the measure as they see fit.

Opponents of legalization are taking a harsh stance. Mothers Against Drunk driving has claimed -- with little supporting evidence -- legalizing pot would lead to more impaired driving. Unsurprisingly, the California Narcotics Officers Association, California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association and the California District Attorneys Association -- all of whom benefit financially from prohibition -- support continued crackdowns on even the smallest possession. And Senator Dianne Feinstein said that legalization will create "a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe."

On the other side of the debate, civil rights advocates point out that pot is far less dangerous than many other freely available substances. Legalization and taxation would bring in significant revenue, which is why Oakland city councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Jean Quan, Pat Kernighan, Larry Reid and Nancy Nadel and Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata support the measure. The Republican Liberty Caucus, longtime champion of personal freedom, also supports ending the government restrictions. And the California State Conference of the NAACP points out that the country's failed "War on Drugs" has caused disproportionate disadvantages for minority communities.

One of the most compelling arguments comes from Harvard researcher Jeffrey Miron, who points out that legalization would actually reduce law enforcement woes. "Just as the harms of alcohol prohibition were worse than the harms of alcohol itself, the adverse effects of marijuana prohibition are worse than the unwanted consequences of marijuana use," he wrote.

Meanwhile, law enforcement conflicts continue to rage over illegal grow operations. Last week, a dangerous operation in Marin was wiped out, and billions of dollars' worth of the crop were destroyed in the Sierra Nevadas.

Matt Baume can't help but notice that you never hear any stories about illegal grow operations for radishes and cucumbers, and wonders why that could possibly be.

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