Legalizing pot – for or against? Prop. 19 panel in Truckee sparks debate
October 22, 2010
TRUCKEE, Calif. – In an opinionated and myth-busting debate, four panelists met Wednesday night to argue benefits and consequences of the November ballot measure Proposition 19 – to legalize marijuana in California.The debate, held at the Truckee Town Council Chambers, was a collaborative effort between the Coalition for a Drug Free Nevada County and the Tahoe-Truckee Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention Working Group to educate voters on both sides of the issue.Nevada County District Attorney Clifford Newell and William Olson, of the Placer County Special Investigation Unit, spoke against the proposition, denouncing it as confusing, ill-written legislation that would mire court systems with inconsistent wording and squander law enforcement resources.Local attorney Alison Bermant and former Cannabis Information Resource Director Martin Webb sat to support the legislation, heralding it as a progressive first step toward a more egalitarian justice system and as an answer to the government’s over-crowded prisons and wasted tax dollars.”I think our law enforcement is misdirected with dealing with marijuana when there are much more serious offenses out there. I think there are people slaving away in our state prison system, and it is a waste of taxpayer money,” Bermant said.Adding to that, Webb polled the audience in a show of hands to highlight how many recreational alcohol users were in attendance – a showing of about 70 percent. Webb then defined voting against marijuana legalization as an obvious form of hypocrisy that would relegate marijuana users to second-class residents in a state inundated with recreational drug use. Alcohol has far more devastating effects, he added.Countering, Newell and Olson attributed their opposition to pure logistical problems within governance and enforcement.Newell said his concerns with the proposition centered on allowance of individual county legislation that would differ and complicate matters in courts. He decried the wording as “a jumbled mess.””No matter how it shakes out in a couple years, no matter if we don’t like it‚ it is very hard to go back,” he said.Supporting Newell, Olson said the state’s current lack of police resources dictates law enforcement must already cope with complaints surrounding the legalization of medical marijuana.”We are public servants; therefore, if anyone calls, we have to respond to their complaints, and calls like that occupy our time far too much,” Olson said.Questions raised during the night from audience members included who would get the tax dollars from marijuana, how drivers allegedly under the influence of marijuana would be tested, and how federal law would work into state legalization, considering U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. opposed the legislation in a Oct. 13 letter to nine former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.The panelists unanimously opined that answers to the questions are still unknown.Newell and Olson used the unanswered questions to spearhead argument against the proposition. Webb and Bermant using uncertainty as reason the legislation is needed.”While I agree with Mr. Newell that there are some inconsistencies with this law, there are thousands of inconsistencies in our other legislated laws as well,” Bermant said. “I don’t think that’s a good reason.”One inconsistency that Newell highlighted was the fact the law would allow for each residence to grow marijuana in a 25 square-foot area, yet it only would allow for possession of one ounce of marijuana, contradictory considering the amount that can be grown in the area.Looking at the practicality of legalized marijuana in neighborhoods, panelists were asked what would happen to neighbors who opposed the smell of marijuana at their personal residences.”Too bad (for the neighbors),” Newell said. “As it is now with Prop. 215 … we already have constant calls from citizens, especially on our end on the western side of Nevada County, where it is very conducive to growing marijuana outside … and law enforcement must tell them that they are within their rights and they can grow.”Webb brushed the concern off as inconsequential.”I’m certainly aware that there are a lot of people who don’t like the smell of marijuana and I’m sorry for the folks that have to put up with a smell that they don’t like. However, calling the cops to try and prosecute a bad smell is a poor use of law enforcement resources,” Webb said.