Pros and cons: Marijuana initiative |

Pros and cons: Marijuana initiative

Nevada County’s District Attorney and a criminal defense lawyer lit up a debate Thursday on California’s proposed marijuana legalization measure.

Proposition 19, the controversial measure to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession, is set to appear on California’s November ballot.

Defense lawyer Stephen Munkelt and county DA Cliff Newell argued for and against the measure at Nevada City’s National Hotel on Thursday in front of the Nevada City Rotary club.

“It’s a poorly written initiative,” Newell said. He pointed to a portion of the law stating employers may not discriminate in hiring against marijuana smokers unless “consumption actually impairs job performance by an employee.”

“Proving that it actually impairs job performance is going to tie us up in the courts forever,” Newell said. “You can’t do anything as an employer if someone smells of marijuana smoke until it impairs their job performance.”

Conversely, if someone comes to work looking drunk, they may legally be sent home right away, Newell said.

Law enforcement officers and DAs have a vested interest in derailing the proposition, Munkelt said. He pointed to the growth in federal funding to local law enforcement agencies to fight drug use, up to $40 billion in 2000 from $4 billion in 1980.

“Cliff’s office gets that money, Sheriff (Keith) Royal’s office gets that money,” Munkelt said. “So they’ve got a vested interest in keeping that going.”

Newell misses the point of the law in regard to employment, Munkelt said.

“I completely disagree with his interpretation and expectation on this issue,” he said.

The law’s written intent reads “the act is not intended to affect the application or enforcement … of any law prohibiting the use of controlled substances in the workplace or by specific persons whose jobs involve public safety.”

Courts will interpret the law based on the written intent, Munkelt said.

“I believe the law would be interpreted so that employers must treat employees who use alcohol on their personal time the same as they treat employees who use marijuana,” Munkelt said. “It makes it very clear employers have the same rights when controlling the use of substances at the workplace.”

To contact Staff Writer Kyle Magin, e-mail or call (530) 477-4239.

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