Time to get weed industry under control; pass Prop 64

Gavin Newsom discusses Prop. 64 (marijuana) with Bee Editorial Board

Lt. Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, talks about Prop. 63 – the legalization of marijuana – at the Modesto Bee offices in Modesto, Calif. He spoke to The Bee's Editorial Board on Thursday, Sept. 15. (Brian Clark/bclark@modbee.com)
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Lt. Governor of California, Gavin Newsom, talks about Prop. 63 – the legalization of marijuana – at the Modesto Bee offices in Modesto, Calif. He spoke to The Bee's Editorial Board on Thursday, Sept. 15. (Brian Clark/bclark@modbee.com)

The thought of parting billowing clouds of marijuana smoke while walking through our neighborhoods irritates the heck out of us.

The idea of living in a world in which evil marketing execs create pot-smoking camels or weedy leprechauns promising that gummy bears are “magically delicious” (apologies to General Mills), is downright frightening.

The spectre of dope-zombies stumbling along on the margins of society – in need of care, never contributing to their own well-being or anyone else’s – fills us with dread.

These are among the reasons we recommend voting yes on Proposition 64 to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

The proposition would help circumvent or alleviate these scenarios. Besides, what we’ve described is already happening – and worse. The skunky smell of marijuana already drifts from cars and apartment windows as emboldened users freely indulge. Visit a medical marijuana dispensary, and see products – Green Crack, Chocolope, Girl Scout Cookies, Volcano (for vaping) – already being promoted like beer or cupcakes.

Walk through virtually any Valley downtown and encounter drug-addled people slouching in the shadows – and know our ability to help them is severely constrained by so many other pressing needs.

Proposition 64 won’t make any of these scenarios worse; most it could make better.

“I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to smell it; I’m worried that big tobacco becomes big marijuana,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom while visiting our editorial board. That’s precisely why he is front-and-center in advocating for Prop 64. He insists it provides safeguards, limits, off-ramps and – most important – local control.

“We don’t believe this should become California’s next Gold Rush,” said Newsom.

It must not. California’s Gold Rush was a lawless, brutal time, turning mining camps and especially our biggest cities into dangerous hellholes. With weed’s growing black-market acceptance – and law enforcement’s inability to curb it – the problems of violence, theft, poisoning from additives and control of the industry by drug cartels could become an unstoppable nightmare without Prop 64.

“There are consequences to not doing anything,” said Newsom.

Many have worried, reasonably, about issues Colorado has encountered since legalization in 2014 – children enticed with bright packaging, no dosage information on edibles, intoxicated drivers, pushing for even laxer laws and fewer regulations. Others are concerned too many black and Latino citizens with felony convictions will be barred from a crazy-lucrative new industry. Still others decry insufficient anti-marijuana education provisions.

But Proposition 64 addresses each issue. Packaging will be controlled and dulled down; dosage information must be prominent; those convicted only of non-violent drug crimes won’t be barred. And 60 percent of new taxes will go into drug education; 20 percent to law enforcement.

No, the 50-page proposition (compared to Colorado’s 10) can’t anticipate all problems; there will be others. Fortunately, counties and cities will have a say in how they introduce and control cannabis sales – to the point of banning it. Don’t forget, unlike many counties, Stanislaus, San Joaquin and Merced counties currently ban medical marijuana sales.

But jurisdictions choosing to opt out won’t share in a tax bonanza – money spent directly to enhance healthcare, education and law enforcement. And opting out won’t keep the problems away. People will drive to the nearest legal county to buy their weed; some will consume it on the way home. Then what?

We shouldn’t handcuff ourselves by opting out. We should, however, be extremely careful in where we permit marijuana to be sold. County and city officials are already crafting what we hope becomes uniform permitting rules.

Finally, we know a lot of people are going to get extremely wealthy selling drugs. It’s no different from a lot of people getting wealthy selling wine – both have drawbacks and dangers.

But the people getting wealthy from recreational marijuana will be paying taxes. They won’t be cartel members.

Authorities suspect those who kidnapped four Modesto brothers and forced them to work as slaves on a Calaveras County pot farm were cartel-connected. There are far worse stories from throughout northern California. When marijuana is decriminalized, the criminals will eventually go out of business.

Polling shows Proposition 64 is entirely likely to pass. It should.