Dispatches from the (Electoral) Front

A question for all you fellow political junkies out there: what races did you find interesting in your neck of the woods, and why?Here in CA, I was intrigued by the trajectory of the Prop. 19 race. Had the measure passed, possession of an ounce of marijuana or growing a 5x5' plot for personal use would have been legal in the state. Some context: marijuana is so easily available here and its use so widely accepted, that smoking it isn't even particularly transgressive in most circles. Medical marijuana is available on the flimsiest of medical pretexts, sometimes prescribed by doctors who'd rather see their patients smoke legally than illegally, since they smoke anyway. Being busted for possession of small amounts of pot now amounts to a mere infraction, like a parking ticket. Marijuana is the state's largest cash crop. Early in the race, the measure had a strong lead. Then opponents started looking at the text of the law: yes, it would be legal, but there would be no statewide agency to regulate (and tax!) the stuff. Regulation would be a patchwork of local policies. Oakland voters, e.g., were presented with a now-moot tax proposal that would have imposed a stiff tax on recreational pot. Similarly, the measure failed to address questions of impairment adequately. Employers would have to demonstrate not just that their employees were high, but that their work was adversely affected. Mothers Against Drunk Driving opposed the initiative because while impaired driving would still be illegal, passengers would be allowed to smoke--a really dumb oversight. Plus, the feds said they'd still enforce the anti-pot rules, (e.g. requiring clean drug tests for train, truck and bus drivers and airline pilots) even if CA didn't--another legal mess. As the case against the measure on legal grounds heated up, public opinion shifted. The San Francisco Chronicle opposed it as bad law. And the measure went down 54-46%, not because Californians don't smoke, and not because they don't favor legalization, but because THIS legalization measure was badly written. Go California!

Lisa Fullam is professor of moral theology at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She is the author of The Virtue of Humility: A Thomistic Apologetic (Edwin Mellen Press).

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