Hopes for recreational marijuana use went up in smoke on Tuesday after California voters said no to a ballot measure seeking the legalization of marijuana. The measure was defeated by 54 percent of voters with 80 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday.
Opponents feared passage of the measure, which would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax marijuana use, would have led to a growing problem with enforcement. While California voters approved medical marijuana use in 1996, this year’s proposition would have further strained the federal government’s enforcement efforts, which the U.S. attorney general vowed to uphold.
In a debate sponsored by Stanford NAACP on campus on Monday night, proponents of “No on 19” and “Yes on 19” debated the pros and cons of legalizing marijuana.
“The main argument is principle,” said Zaki Manian, regional director for the “Yes on 19” initiative. “And the main principle is the idea of limited government.”
Arguing that governments shouldn’t have jurisdiction over personal life choices, Manian emphasized the “basic American ideal of liberty.”
“What is the government even protecting us from?” Manian said. “It seems that they’re protecting us from a relatively innocuous drug. They’re getting a lot of power over our lives without showing that there’s real benefit to us.”
Manian said marijuana wasn’t necessarily harmful.
“Alcohol is probably the most lethal intoxicant when done in combination with motor vehicles,” Manian said. “Very few substances affect your brain in this lethal combination. I wouldn’t encourage anyone to drive while stoned, but most scientific studies have shown that people under the influence of marijuana are not nearly as dangerous as people under the influence of alcohol.”
Manian argued that too many resources were wasted on marijuana offenders who “probably needed the drug to get through the day.”
“Legalizing it would make it a controllable substance,” he said.
Daniel Khalessi ’13 spoke in opposition to the proposition on the two-person panel. Agreeing on the “relatively innocuous effects of marijuana,” he instead emphasized the conflict it would present with the federal government.
Comparing marijuana legalization and the controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, as parallel movements, Khalessi looked at the struggle between state and national power.
“Voting ‘yes’ on Prop. 19 would strengthen the people supporting the Arizona immigration law,” Khalessi said. “It undermines the authority of the attorney general.”
“It would essentially show that Arizona’s laws would be fine,” he added.
But it’s important to realize that the challenge to federal authority that gay marriages present is distinct from the Arizona immigration and marijuana legalization struggles, Khalessi said.
“The difference between gay marriages and Arizona and Prop. 19 is that with Prop. 8, you don’t get prosecuted for it,” he said. “It’s an unalienable right that you have or don’t have. People who do marijuana or get caught in the immigration laws can be thrown in jail, deported and be actually punished for it. But, you can’t be punished for marrying someone of the same sex. You just can’t do it.”
Even after the proposition’s failure to pass, “Yes on 19” proponents plan to contend the issue further.
“The movement doesn’t end here,” Manian said.