The November elections are upon us. Campaign signs spear lawns along every thoroughfare. Candidates are digging deep for the energy to keep up their frenetic speaking schedules. Who can’t wait for the presidential debates? Will there be historical outbursts? Will health issues keep everyone vertical?
Donald and Hillary aside, there is another showstopper on the ballot this year: Will California legalize the adult, recreational use of marijuana?
But I want to bend the question a bit. I don’t want to ask: “Should we or shouldn’t we?” I want to ask: exactly who should make the call?
This is the question posed to students who will be submitting their opinions via the American Heritage Scholarship Essay Contest. Annually, Modesto City Schools, the Stanislaus County Office of Education and The Modesto Bee pose a question with constitutional implications for high school juniors and seniors.
An evening event showcases a speaker or two to offer expertise and food for thought to interested students and the public who respond to the annual invitation. Any student who attends a public, private or charter school or is being schooled at home is eligible to compete. They must either live or attend school in Stanislaus County.
Is it the role of the federal government to say yea or nay to the recreational use of marijuana? The 18th Amendment to the Constitution banned alcohol, but the consequent era of Prohibition was a failure for all but a few profiteers and bootleggers. It was ultimately repealed, even though we continue to contend with negative alcohol-related issues.
How about state governments?
Should individual states lay claim to the right to legalize marijuana? California saw fit to mandate the use of seat belts while driving and helmets while riding motorcycles in hopes of keeping its citizenry safe. Is this a precedent worth considering and possibly applying to marijuana?
Maybe counties? Cities? What kind of practical fallout would come from having such small governmental jurisdictions make different decisions? What is legal in one spot could be illegal 5 miles down the road or even across the street.
I am old enough to recall the days when the township of Davis was “dry” – meaning you couldn’t buy an alcoholic beverage there. I guess the decision was made in an attempt to keep all those University of California, Davis, students safer during their first ventures away from home. Regardless, liquor stores just outside city limits did a booming business. By the time I graduated, there was a pub on campus.
And what about a voter initiative, or proposition? Should we just leave it to the people? The voting public? I wonder how the citizenry of those states that have legalized marijuana through a public referendum feel about the consequences of letting “the people” decide. Drug testing for the purposes of work, open solicitation on the streets for grass, downtowns congested by glassy-eyed vagrants are all consequences of Oregon’s decision to legalize, as a recent trip to Portland can attest. In Colorado, people passing by pubs can be overwhelmed by the odor of burning marijuana.
Professor Mike Vitiello, who teaches law at University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law, is an expert on the issue; he will moderate a discussion between John Lee, an advocate for marijuana reform, and Jeff Darnell, a Stanislaus County assistant district attorney who prosecutes drug crimes.
Money is on the line. Each year, $10,000 in scholarships are awarded for the best essays, ranging from $2,000 for the one judged best to $100 for many others. All together, 18 students earn scholarships for their essays.
Begun after the 9/11 attacks in New York City, the American Heritage Essay Contest focuses on what makes America unique – and that is, when all is said and done, the Constitution. So, each year, a thought-provoking prompt inspires as many as 300 students to respond.
Each essay is read twice during judging by a group of educators and volunteers from the public; volunteer readers are welcome and appreciated – please contact Brittney Boone at the Stanislaus County Office of Education 209-238-1706, or email@example.com if you would like to read on Oct. 27. Once the top essays are identified, they are sent to a group of Superior Court judges to consider the finalists and choose the ultimate rankings.
Unlike the students who will be taking, and defending, a stand in the American Heritage Scholarship essays, I have no answers on this issue. But I do look forward to reading the positions and rationals of support from some of our best and brightest young minds.
Susan Rich is the assistant superintendent of administrative services for the Stanislaus County Office of Education. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.
American Heritage Scholarship Essay Contest
Should we legalize weed?
What: American Heritage Scholarship Essay Contest Forum
Where: Beyer High School’s theater, 1717 Sylvan Road
When: Tuesday, Sept. 27, 7 p.m.
Who: Moderator Michael Vitiello, McGeorge School of Law; John Lee, marijuana legalization advocate and Jeffrey Darnell, Stanislaus County assistant district attorney
Admission: Free, no RSVP required. All are welcome.