Prop. 19 could flicker out
By Josh Richman
Posted: 10/22/2010 02:34:49 PM PDT
Updated: 10/23/2010 03:56:01 AM PDT
Come Nov. 3, California will either have become the first state to allow legal, regulated, taxed marijuana, or -- more likely, some political experts say -- it will have created a lot of heat and light without any smoke.
A couple of recent polls show flagging support for the pot measure.
The Public Policy Institute of California reported Wednesday only 44 percent of likely voters polled Oct. 10-17 intend to vote for Proposition 19 -- down 8 percentage points since September. -- with 49 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. And a Los Angeles Times-University of Southern California poll, conducted Oct. 13-20 and released Friday found 51 percent of likely voters say they'll vote against Prop. 19, while only 39 percent will vote for it with 10 percent undecided or refusing to answer.
"The rule of thumb for ballot measures is unless you have close to 60 percent going in, the undecideds will flock disproportionately toward 'No.' If they haven't made up their minds by Election Day, they overwhelmingly vote no," said Larry Gerston, a political-science professor at San Jose State.
Prop. 19 would let people age 21 or older legally possess as much as an ounce of marijuana, and grow it in a space of up to 25 square feet. Cities and counties could choose whether to regulate and tax commercial production and sale. Possessing it on school grounds, using it in public, smoking it while minors are present or providing it to anyone under 21 would remain illegal, as would driving while impaired.
Legalization, according to supporters, would end a hypocritical and racially disproportionate ban on a drug less harmful than alcohol, while saving law enforcement costs, raising new tax revenue, and making it harder for kids to get marijuana. Those backers include the California branch of the NAACP, the state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Young Democrats, the Republican Liberty Caucus, the California Council of Churches and several big labor unions.
Opponents say Prop. 19 would threaten public safety, violate federal law and drug-free workplace rules, allow a patchwork of different regulations, and wouldn't raise much, if any, tax revenue. Those critics include Mothers Against Drunk Driving; most law enforcement groups; all major-party candidates for governor, state attorney general and U.S. Senate; the California League of Cities; the California State Association of Counties; and business groups.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger might have tried to co-opt part of Prop. 19's benefit by signing a bill Sept. 30 to reduce possession of up to an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $100 fine to an infraction with the same penalty, sort of like a traffic offense but leaving no mark on one's criminal record. This means those cited are no longer entitled to jury trials and court-appointed attorneys, potentially saving taxpayers millions -- one of the criminal-justice costs Prop. 19 sought to eliminate. Prop. 19's supporters say this wouldn't be enough, as minority communities still would be disproportionately hit with the $100 tickets.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder also seemed to make a calculated effort to erode the measure's support by penning a letter this month underscoring that federal authorities will continue enforcing the federal ban on cultivation and sale no matter what California voters do.
The PPIC poll released this week showed support had declined among Democrats and even more sharply among independents while Republican support remained steadily low. Support declined across almost all demographic groups, with backing from Latinos dropping by 19 percentage points.
"Lately we're seeing some negative stories "... that raised questions as to whether this would really do anything about the Mexican drug cartels, and there have been stories about the potential economic impact being not as positive as the proponents suggest," said Jack Pitney, a politics professor at Claremont McKenna College, adding parents remain likely to balk at a measure they believe -- rightly or wrongly -- would make marijuana more readily available to their kids.
"I'm still going to be surprised if it passes," Pitney said. "I don't see any evidence that this is a voter magnet. People are not getting involved because of this, but rather, people who are turning out for other reasons will be voting on this. We don't know exactly what the numbers will look like, but the 2010 California electorate will be substantially more conservative than the 2008 electorate."
Some critics said supporters should have withheld this measure until 2012, when a presidential election would boost turnout and the state's Democratic-leaning voter registration could be used to better advantage. Prop. 19's supporters countered they would mobilize a tsunami of young voters turning out for the first time to support this measure -- an "invisible tide" strategy that's hard to gauge until the polls close on Election Day. The measure does indeed have a strong Facebook presence: More than 212,000 "liked" it by Friday, though not all of them were Californians, much less likely voters.
Gerston said "it just isn't the case" that all voters age 18 to 25 smoke marijuana and will stampede to the polls to legalize it. He said younger voters tilt more toward legalization, but nowhere near enough to offset the rest of the electorate.
"As it is, those voters come out the least, and in an election like this, they may be on the endangered species list," Gerston said. "The idea of reaching out to people who are normally not going to get involved (in an election) with an issue like this? Very unlikely, naive."
And costly. Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee spent $1.4 million to put Prop. 19 on the ballot, then said in July he would step back and let campaign professionals do the rest.
With other big-ticket donors slow to appear, Lee put in another $57,000 from late August through early October. A few substantial donations came in, such as $59,500 from billionaire Progressive Insurance Chairman Peter Lewis, a benefactor of many of California's past drug-reform measures; $77,000 from television producer Kevin Bright ("Friends"); and $50,000 from retired software mogul Stephen Silberstein, of Belvedere. Still, the Yes on 19 campaign had only $67,468 in the bank as of Sept. 30 -- a pittance by California ballot-measure standards.
"You don't have the big guns coming out for this, like George Soros, that you had last time," Gerston said. "They saw the writing on the wall."
Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics. Follow Josh Richman at Twitter.com/josh_richman.
Debate rages over health effects of marijuana
California voters will decide Nov. 2 whether to legalize recreational use of drug
By Sandy Kleffman
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 10/20/2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
The marijuana cigarette, with its pungent smell, became a symbol of the 1960s.
Bill Clinton tried it, but didn't inhale. Comedians joked about burned-out dopers with brains altered by a variety of drugs, including pot.
College students and young professionals passed around joints at parties and wondered: Why all the fuss?
Now, four decades later, Californians will decide Nov. 2 whether to legalize recreational use of the drug. Proposition 19 would allow people 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow it in spaces of 25 square feet or less.
Although marijuana has been in use for years, voters will head to the polls with only a hazy understanding of its health effects.
Research has been difficult because the drug is illegal, and the limited studies that have been done often paint conflicting pictures. Among the murky areas:
· Marijuana smoke is laced with carcinogens and can lead to respiratory problems, but no link has been established with lung cancer. Some studies suggest the drug's active ingredient may even have anti-cancerous properties.
· It can be addictive -- one federal survey found that 4.3 million people had a problem with marijuana abuse or dependence in 2009 -- but research indicates it may not be as addictive as other drugs or alcohol.
· While people are under its influence, marijuana can impair memory and hinder the brain's cognitive abilities. But whether such effects are long-lasting is not clear.
· In rare instances, it can lead to psychotic episodes, but whether it can be linked to mental illness in vulnerable people remains an open question.
One of the biggest unknowns is marijuana's effect on a developing brain. Many experts consider this question particularly important because brains mature until people are in their 20s.
Also open to debate is whether legalizing marijuana would lead to more fatal traffic accidents, especially if people combine drinking with the drug.
All of these uncertainties provide plenty of fodder for those on both sides of the Prop. 19 debate.
Some medical professionals view marijuana as clearly less harmful than alcohol.
"It seems to be a rather safe substance with very low potential for addiction and withdrawal," said Dr. Donald Abrams, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and chief of hematology and oncology at San Francisco General Hospital. Abrams recommends marijuana for many of his cancer patients.
"There are 8 million people in the United States that are relatively chronic marijuana users," he said, "and many of them are highly functioning people that hold full-time jobs and are creative members of society."
But others see reason for caution.
Alan Budney, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, studies marijuana dependence and withdrawal.
"If you start using it way too much, it starts affecting your life just like alcohol or any other drug does," he said. "Your relationships suffer. Financially, you suffer. Employment and school-wise, you suffer. All the things that go along with dependence on any drug, I see that as the most chronic problem with marijuana. People abuse it."
So how addictive is it?
One well-known study found that one out of every 10 or 11 people who use marijuana will develop an abuse or dependence problem.
That compares to one out of three people who use tobacco, one out of six who drink alcohol, one out of six who use cocaine, and one out of five who use heroin.
This suggests that marijuana is not as addictive as other drugs and alcohol. But Budney cautions that if it is legalized and becomes cheaper and easier to get, its dependence numbers may rise.
Marijuana comes from the dried, shredded leaves, stems, seeds and flowers of the hemp plant. It is the most commonly used illegal drug in the United States. A 2008 federal survey found that 15.2 million people had used it within the past month.
Most people inhale it in hand-rolled cigarettes, but it also can be mixed into foods such as brownies or used to brew tea.
When smoked, the active ingredient in pot, delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, has an almost immediate effect. It passes from the lungs to the bloodstream and travels to organs throughout the body.
In the brain, THC attaches to sites called cannabinoid receptors on nerve cells, changing the way those cells work. These receptors are abundant in parts of the brain that regulate memory, thinking, concentration, movement, coordination, time perception, and pleasure.
Within a few minutes, the heart rate may speed up and even double in some cases. This could pose problems for those with heart conditions, but Budney and others said it usually is a mild reaction that does not lead to serious heart troubles.
One of the biggest concerns is the potential effect on the lungs, particularly since marijuana smoke contains 50 to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke.
Marijuana joints have no filter and are more loosely packed than a tobacco cigarette. People tend to hold marijuana smoke in their lungs for about 16 seconds, much longer than the three or four seconds for cigarette smokers, notes Donald Tashkin, a professor of medicine at UCLA and one of the world's leading researchers on marijuana and the lungs.
"You smoke marijuana differently from tobacco, so more of the particles have time to deposit," he said.
Marijuana smokers are at increased risk of developing such respiratory problems as coughing, phlegm and bronchitis, studies have shown.
Tashkin and his colleagues have found evidence of swelling, inflammation and microscopic injury in the lining of the major airways of marijuana smokers. So they speculated that this could lead to lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
But to their surprise, when they conducted a large study in the Los Angeles area, they found no increased risk for these conditions among marijuana users, no matter how heavily they smoked. Other researchers have replicated their findings.
"So the bottom line is that it doesn't appear marijuana increases the risk for causing COPD or lung cancer," Tashkin said. "We also failed to find any risk for head and neck cancer."
No one knows why marijuana has not been linked to lung cancer, but Tashkin has a theory. He notes that at least 12 studies have shown that THC has properties that may inhibit the development of tumors by limiting cell division and promoting the death of unhealthful cells.
"It's presumably on the basis of these properties that THC inhibits the production of cancer," he said. But more research is needed.
Another unclear area involves marijuana's effect on cognitive abilities. One study found that long-term, heavy pot users one week after they quit using were still impaired in their ability to recall words from a list, but returned to normal by four weeks. Another study found the effect on the brain can build up and deteriorate life skills over time.
When performing a memory task, marijuana smokers "activate either different parts of the brain or more parts of the brain than somebody who is not a marijuana smoker," said Susan Weiss, chief of the science policy branch at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
"So what does that mean?" she added. "You could interpret it to mean that the marijuana smokers' brains are less efficient than somebody who is not a marijuana smoker. Or that there's some other way that the brain has compensated for being exposed to marijuana. It's very hard to know how to interpret that."
Although studies have shown an association between marijuana and schizophrenia, "at this time, it is not clear whether marijuana use causes mental problems, exacerbates them, or is used in an attempt to self-medicate symptoms already in existence," notes the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Among the Prop. 19 supporters is Dr. Larry Bedard, an emergency physician who practiced 21 years at Marin General Hospital before retiring. Throughout his career, he said, he saw fewer than 10 patients whose chief complaint related to marijuana. That was minuscule compared to the number of people he saw with alcohol-related problems.
"Marijuana is safer, with the least health consequences," he said.
In 2008, California hospitals had 181 admissions in which marijuana abuse or dependence was listed as the primary cause, according to a recent RAND Corp. report. In an additional 25,000 hospital admissions, marijuana was listed as a secondary, third or fourth diagnosis.
State officials said they could not readily produce comparable numbers for alcohol-related hospitalizations, but many experts said, like Bedard, that it would be many times more than the marijuana-related cases. However, Rosalie Pacula, co-director of RAND's Drug Policy Research Center, cautioned that the marijuana numbers may be artificially low because some doctors have been hesitant to code for pot because that can make it tougher to get reimbursement from insurance companies.
Pacula wrote a paper in July concluding that the health care costs associated with an increase in marijuana use, if it is legalized, are likely to be small compared to the expected revenue and criminal justice savings. But she also noted that as research proceeds, if marijuana is found to be a cause of more significant health problems including schizophrenia and driving under the influence, that conclusion could change.
Studies have shown a much higher percentage of traffic accidents linked to alcohol than to marijuana. After using marijuana, "most people drive slower, so there's less risk of a fatality," Pacula said. But she added that studies have also shown that combining marijuana use and drinking impedes people's ability to drive more than does alcohol alone.
"So the question that we really don't have a definitive answer about is whether alcohol and marijuana are going to get used together, or if they're going to be used as substitutes," Pacula said. "People have lots of opinions about that. There's research that shows both. So that is a big, big question."
Contact Sandy Kleffman at 925-943-8249.
Report: Racial bias evident in marijuana arrests
By Josh Richman
Posted: 10/22/2010 03:19:01 PM PDT
Updated: 10/22/2010 05:34:11 PM PDT
With Proposition 19 -- California's ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana -- struggling in the polls, the Drug Policy Alliance and the NAACP rolled out a study Friday on how marijuana arrests are racially disproportionate.
The report says that from 2006 through 2008, police in 25 large California cities arrested blacks for low-level marijuana possession at four, five, six, seven and even 12 times the rate of whites, even as U.S. government surveys consistently find that young whites use marijuana at higher rates than young blacks. For example, the study found, the city of Los Angeles arrested blacks for marijuana possession at 7.1 times the rate of whites, and blacks -- who account for 9.6 percent of the city's population -- accounted for 34.4 percent of marijuana arrests.
In San Jose, blacks were arrested at 5.1 times the rate of whites, and blacks -- who account for 2.9 percent of the city's population -- accounted for 4.1 percent of marijuana arrests. Oakland and San Francisco weren't included in the report, which was presented Friday amid the California NAACP's annual convention at the Oakland Marriott and Convention Center.
On hand to release the report were California NAACP State Conference President Alice Huffman, whose early and ardent support of Prop. 19 on the basis of racial discrimination in marijuana enforcement has made waves in the state's black communities; Drug Policy Alliance California Director Stephen Gutwillig; Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Executive Director Neill Franklin; actor Danny Glover; Prop. 19 proponent and Oaksterdam University President Richard Lee; National NAACP Criminal Justice Program Director Robert Rooks; and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.
Their news conference preceded a panel discussion on "Lost Communities/Failed Cannabis Prohibition: A Time for Change."
"We are spending billions of dollars each year for a war on drugs, but it has been a war on young black males "... and it's time for us to end that war," Elders said.
Added Huffman: "If you don't believe it's a civil rights issue, you don't believe in justice in America."
The report is available at www.drugpolicy.org/library/arrestingblacks.cfm.
Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics. Follow Josh Richman at Twitter.com/josh_richman.
Radio ads against Calif pot measure set to air
The Associated Press
Posted: 10/22/2010 10:06:46 PM PDT
Updated: 10/22/2010 10:06:46 PM PDT
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—Radio ads opposing California's pot legalization ballot measure have begun airing in the high-profile contest that has nevertheless seen little on-air campaigning.
The California Chamber of Commerce is paying for ads running this weekend in San Diego and Los Angeles. The ads claim Proposition 19 will threaten workplace safety and hurt the state's economy.
Neither side in the debate has raised enough money to make major ad buys on television or radio, although the Yes side has heavily outraised opponents so far.
Chamber spokeswoman Denise Davis did not say how much the group has spent on the ads but described it as a "sizeable buy." She says the ads began running Friday.
Measure supporters dispute the chamber's claims, saying that employers would retain their legal rights to discipline workers who use pot.
Prop. 19: Fight over pot starts to heat up
Kevin Fagan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, October 24, 2010
No TV ads. No billboards. Just a lot of news conferences, endorsement announcements, mailings by special-interest groups and phone calls to voters.
That's what the battle has consisted of so far in the campaigns around the lowest-key, highest-interest election issue on the Nov. 2 ballot - Proposition 19, which would legalize personal marijuana use for adults. And that's pretty much the game plan from here to the end.
The very subject of legalizing marijuana has been in the public discourse for so many decades that many people apparently have their minds made up already, observers and combatants say. So the main challenge has been to fire up the converted on both sides, while educating voters in the middle to shore up the margins.
A Public Policy Institute of California survey released Thursday showed 49 percent of Californians saying they would vote no on the measure, and 44 percent saying they'd vote yes. That's a turnaround from a Field Poll last month that had Prop. 19 up, 49 percent to 42 percent. A smattering of smaller polls disagree on which side is ahead.
What this means, in the home stretch toward election day, is that Prop. 19 is still up for grabs.
"It's probably going to be a squeaker one way or another," said Tom Angell, media director for Prop. 19.
"Our message is harder to get out, because it's got a little more complexity, but we're making headway," said Roger Salazar, spokesman for the No on Prop. 19 effort. "The other side is working overtime to generate some press, and so are we."
The most striking thing about the campaign is the lack of the advertisements, even though polls indicate Prop. 19 is by far the most recognizable measure on the ballot. It's also been drawing international headlines because it would make California the first place in the United States to legalize recreational pot.
"We're seeing lots of ads for everything else on the ballot, aren't we? But not Prop. 19," said Martin Carcieri, a political science professor at San Francisco State University. "It tells us that this is such a touchy subject you have to be careful.
"That, plus neither side has a ton of money, and ads are expensive."
It generally costs about $2 million a week to run television ads statewide in a California election, and so far neither campaign has been able to attract a lot of cash.
According to the California secretary of state's office, the anti-Prop. 19 side had raised just $250,000 as of Friday. The measure's proponents had pulled together $2.8 million, which could position them for a last-minute flurry of ads.
By contrast, more than $22 million has been raised by the pro and con sides around Proposition 24, which would repeal a number of tax breaks for big corporations.
The main weapons in the battle over Prop. 19 have been news coverage, endorsement announcements and opinion pieces in newspapers and on blogs. Representatives of both sides, including police, politicians and educators, have debated each other in hundreds of settings.
Each faction claims the most heat.
"People are really fired up about this all over the country," Angell said. "We've got a huge bank of volunteers doing phone-bank work everywhere, and we're on most campuses.
"The crucial thing for us is direct contact with the voters through the phones and outreach. We really do feel we can win this."
About 1,000 volunteers from as far away as Denver's Women's Marijuana Movement have pitched in to spread the pro-pot message by phone to voters.
The proposition, drawn up by medical marijuana pioneer Richard Lee of Oakland, would allow local jurisdictions to legalize the possession of as much as an ounce of marijuana for recreational use by anybody 21 or older, and to tax pot sales. Each person could also grow the drug for personal use in anything up to a 5-by-5-foot space.
"I've always said that cannabis prohibition is hypocritical and unfair," said Lee, who founded the Oaksterdam marijuana-trade school in Oakland. "This sort of law is overdue."
On the flip side, anti-Prop. 19 activists say people don't need to be convinced that a drug is a drug. It's getting them to the polls that matters most.
"Prop. 19 isn't really what it says it is - it will lead to a great deal of confusion, and it won't stop crime," said Pleasant Hill Police Chief Dunbar, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association. "Marijuana may be legalized one day, but this is not the way to do it."
Salazar said his campaign's message boils down to this: "Prop. 19 claims to regulate, tax and control marijuana, but it in fact does none of those things." He said there would be a proliferation of people coming to work and driving while stoned, and that many sellers may refuse to pay local taxes because marijuana would still be illegal under federal law.
Several home-grown groups, such as Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, a self-started outfit of 15 in Sacramento, are spreading thousands of leaflets around the state to counteract the pro-Prop. 19 phone calls and campus crusades.
Neither side will say if it is planning last-minute TV or radio ads, but if they do the arguments would undoubtedly echo what has already made the proposition the most recognizable one on the ballot, Carcieri said.
Those for Prop. 19 argue that it would bring in billions to governmental coffers through taxes and fees and give people the freedom to use an herb they see as less harmful than liquor or tobacco. And those who oppose it say Prop. 19 would legitimize a dangerous drug that the federal government would still outlaw.
"Americans really do believe in personal liberty, and that's part of why this proposition has gotten this far," Carcieri said. "Of course, this is too much for even a lot of those who believe in personal liberty - but this time there is also the money argument.
"Without the desperate economic situation we have now, this wouldn't be on the ballot."
E-mail Kevin Fagan at email@example.com.