The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

California voters, Urban students ponder Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana


Marijuana. Pot. Weed. Grass. Cannabis. Whatever you call it, there is a chance it could be legalized in California for people over the age of 21 if voters approve Proposition 19 on Nov. 2.

For some Californians, change is long overdue. “I think we should legalize it,” said Haight Street clothing shop owner Greta Marti, 22. “We could tax it, and it would help the government.”

In a surprise twist that could affect how Californians view Prop 19, Attorney General Eric Holder promised, in an Oct. 14 letter to former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration, to “vigorously enforce” the federal ban on pot if voters approve Prop 19.

Obama administration officials had been largely silent on Prop 19 until Holder’s announcement.

Along with the controversy over federal versus state law, the arguments surrounding Prop 19 come down to three issues: Money, crime and health.

California lawmakers recently passed a budget that closes a $20 billion budget deficit. But the process took a record 100 days and services were cut. Legalizing marijuana could yield up to $990 million in new excise taxes, according to the state Board of Equalization.

“If you legalize (marijuana) and put taxes on it, within five years we could make up for all of California’s deficit,” predicts Zoe Johnson (’13).

For Prop 19 proponents, reducing the cost of fighting crime is a potential plus. “There are 80,000 marijuana arrests a year, and most are low-level crimes,” said Joseph McNamara, former chief of police of San Jose, who was quoted in a recent San Francisco Chronicle article. “We need to put police priorities where they belong.”

According to McNamara, marijuana accounts for 42.6 percent of all U.S. drug arrests, and one in six inmates is in prison for non-violent marijuana offenses. Of 80,000 arrests a year for marijuana, four out of five are for possession and one out of five persons arrested is under 18. And dealing with crime is expensive. According to an Oct. 4 article in the Oakland Tribune, California spent $85.8 million in 2009 to house 1,639 inmates for crimes including marijuana possession for sale, marijuana sales, other marijuana offenses or hashish possession.

Even those who don’t necessarily advocate marijuana use think that Prop 19 could end America’s expensive war on drugs.

”I believe the legislation of marijuana would allow respectable non-violent farmers to grow, harvest, and sell the crop in the United States, and would ultimately result in a significant decrease of gang violence in the U.S. and beyond,” wrote Adam Wolf (’11) in an e-mail.

”I would vote yes on Prop 19, because, even if kid-users think it would benefit them, it would actually make it harder for them to access (it),” said Urban Athletic Director Greg Angilly. “It would set an age requirement, which would make it more difficult for underage people to access it.”

But others disagree.

“I believe the people who are in the illegal drug trade are in it for a reason, and if marijuana is legalized, they will just find something else,” says Charlotte Worsley, assistant head of student life. “I don’t think you’ll solve the illegal drug trade problem by legalizing one drug.”

Health teacher Jennifer Epstein says the promise of marijuana dollars is overblown.

“More people would have problems with marijuana, which would cause higher costs for rehab,” she said. “Definitely, more people would use it and try it if they weren’t going to before. There would be more access for people even under the age of 21 because there would be more marijuana around and more people would use it.”

Health concerns cause hesitation

When it comes to the health impact of marijuana, students, teachers, and medical experts raise concerns about how Prop 19 could affect teens.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the main psychoactive chemical found in the cannabis plant. Marijuana’s strength and potency is determined by its percentage of THC. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), memory impairment from marijuana use occurs because THC alters how information is processed in the hippocampus, a brain area responsible for memory information. As people age, they lose neurons in the hippocampus, which decreases the ability to learn new information. Chronic THC exposure may hasten age-related loss of hippocampal neurons.

Short-term effects include impaired memory and learning, distorted perception and increased heart rate, NIDA says. THC affects athletes, altering timing, movements, and coordination. NIDA studies also show THC can damage immune systems. THC levels have increased up to 10 percent from the 1970s.

“It is just a myth that (marijuana use) is not affecting your brain,” says Worsley. “If you are an adolescent and you’re using marijuana regularly, it is impacting your ability to do your school work …. The earlier you use it … the greater impact it has on your brain, and the increased likelihood of addiction.”

However, California historically has seen medical benefits to marijuana. In 1996, voters passed proposition 215 granting Californians the right to use marijuana to treat severe medical conditions such as arthritis, chemotherapy, chronic pain, AIDS, pain and muscle spasms, and glaucoma. California is currently one of 13 states where medical marijuana is legal.

Confusion over Prop 19: language

There is also a concern that the wording of Prop 19 is flawed. A Sept. 16 San Francisco Chronicle editorial identified five areas of concern: workplace, taxes, regulation, cultivation, and transit. For example, Prop 19 would prevent employers from firing or disciplining workers who used marijuana unless an employer could prove that job performance was impaired.Testing before employment would be banned, even though federal law permits employers to automatically remove operators of planes, trains, trucks, and buses if they test positive for any narcotic.

Prop 19 establishes no state controls over distribution and product standards; it would allow 58 counties to make their own taxation and regulating systems. Property owners would be allowed a 5 foot by 5 foot plot of cannabis for personal use.

To some, the legal complexities of Prop 19 outweigh its potential to ease California’s money woes.

“Our health should not be compromised because our state does not know how to manage money,” said Epstein.

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California voters, Urban students ponder Proposition 19 to legalize marijuana