‘What’s wrong about getting high?’
March 25, 2010
Grass Valley resident Carole Chapman had one word Thursday to describe her feelings after an initiative to legalize marijuana made it onto November’s ballot:
Outspoken against marijuana laws, which she calls “a crime against humanity,” Chapman helped gather signatures to make it legal. In Nevada County, 1,051 people signed the petition.
With nearly 700,000 signatures statewide, the California Secretary of State’s office certified the initiative Wednesday.
The measure would allow those 21 years and older to have up to one ounce of marijuana – enough to roll dozens of marijuana cigarettes. It would also allow residents to grow their own crop in gardens measuring up to 25 square feet.
The prospect of marijuana being more accessible to teens raised both cheers and jeers.
“I hope they do – what’s wrong about getting high?” Chapman said. “It beats the hell out of drinking and driving.”
School officials, however, stand adamantly against the possible proliferation of pot.
“I think legalization inadvertently conveys that there’s a lesser risk involved,” said Nevada Union High School principal Marty Mathiesen.
School administrators see students’ grades and motivation drop when they start using marijuana, and they worry about its role as a gateway to harder drugs, they said.
“I think we have so many issues that the kids deal with, with alcohol,” said Bear River High School principal Jim Nieto. “By adding something else to the mix, it’s going to be even more detrimental.”
Crime will change, but won’t be reduced, police said.
“Marijuana will be the subject of theft,” said Grass Valley police Capt. Rex Marks.
“Statistically, we can expect an increase in criminal activity.”
The proposal would ban users from ingesting marijuana in public or smoking it while minors are present. It also would make it illegal to have the drug on school grounds or drive while under its influence.
Local governments would decide whether to permit and tax marijuana sales.
Legalizing marijuana could save California $200 million a year by reducing public safety costs, proponents said. At the same time, it could generate sales tax revenue for local governments. Officials at both levels are facing dire deficits.
Some have suggested it would help the state combat massive, clandestine farms operated by Mexican cartels to finance methamphetamine operations.
But regulating marijuana use won’t wipe out illegal operations, police say.
“I don’t think it’ll weaken the market,” Marks said. “It’ll continue on the black market. (Growers) are not going to register to be taxed.”
A Field Poll taken in April found a slim majority of California voters supported legalizing and taxing pot to help bridge the state budget deficit.
The state was the first to legalize medicinal marijuana use, with voters passing Prop. 215 in 1996. Since then, 14 states have followed California’s lead, even though marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Nevada County marijuana advocate and businessman Martin Webb said the substance was a pathway for him to leave hard drugs. Much of the information about the pros and cons of marijuana is myth, he said.
Downtown bar fights sparked by alcohol and the devastation of methamphetamine are far more serious issues deserving law enforcement’s attention, Webb added.
“Unfortunately, there’s going to be a lot of confusion,” Webb said about the forthcoming debate. “I think it’s great because it’s going to get people talking.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4247.