Leading Democrats opposed to Prop. 19

It’s old news for the Netherlands, Portugal has been doing it for about a decade now and the Danes are thinking about it. On Nov. 2, Californians will vote on it.

But Californians looking forward to legalizing the recreational use of marijuana might have to think twice before lighting up this November.

That’s because significant opposition to the ballot initiative, somewhat surprisingly, is coming from some leading Democrats, including liberals and state Democratic Party officials.

Indeed, the California Democratic Party declined to take a position on the initiative, Proposition 19, which would tax and legalize marijuana for Californians 21 years and older.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, a candidate for state attorney general who supports medical marijuana use, has spoken freely against Proposition 19, calling the initiative “flawed public policy.” She sees the debate over Proposition 19 as primarily a public safety issue.

“Spending two decades in court rooms, Harris believes that drug selling harms communities,” says Harris’ campaign manager Brian Brokaw. “Harris supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that.”

The current attorney general and candidate for governor, Jerry Brown, also has some legal qualms with Proposition 19.

That’s because federal law still prohibits the use of marijuana, meaning California state law would have to ignore the feds in order to legalize the drug. This could cause some legal wrangling and may  jeopardize federal funding for the state, critics say.

“As the chief law enforcement office of California, Brown can’t support a ballot measure that violates federal law,” says Brown campaign spokesman Sterling Clifford.

Proposition 19 would allow adults 21 years and older to purchase and grow a limited amount of marijuana “for personal use.” It prohibits public use and gives local governments the authority to tax the sale of cannabis and to regulate potential abuse.

But Sen. Diane Feinstein, perhaps the most popular political figure in California, says the measure leaves out crucial details on how such regulations are going to be enforced by counties.

“Proposition 19 is simply a jumbled legal nightmare,” Feinstein said in a written statement released by the No on 19 campaign.

Feinstein referred to a RAND study by the Corporation Drug Policy Research Center, and cited concerns about potential state-federal conflicts.

“A recently released report from the RAND Corporation noted that if Proposition 19 passes, the only thing that would be certain is drug use would go up and the state of California would run afoul of the federal law and risk losing federal funding,” said Feinstein’s statement.

No on 19 campaign spokesman Andrew Acosta says there has yet to be an analysis of the amount of federal funding potentially lost in the legalization of marijuana, but he speculates that “any federal dollars could be in jeopardy, including money for schools.”

The argument in favor of the measure as listed in the Secretary of State’s official voter guide says the California Board of Equalization estimates annual marijuana tax revenues of $1.4 billion.  

Robert Ingenito, chief of the board’s Research and Statistics Section, says the $1.4 billion estimate stems from a $50-per-ounce tax.

But this tax rate stems from a marijuana-legalization bill authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Ammiano’s bill is awaiting action in the Legislature.

Acosta says Proposition 19 doesn’t define the tax rate. Instead, it allows counties to choose the rates at which they will tax marijuana. True estimates of revenue under Proposition 19’s provisions don’t exist, says Acosta, because the tax rates are unknown.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office said the same thing on Wednesday 21 in their analysis of Proposition 19.

“The magnitude of additional revenue is difficult to estimate.”

“However,” the report concludes, “we estimate the state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenue.”

The state Board of Equalization has not taken a stand on the issue nor has it conducted an analysis of Proposition 19’s revenue outcome, says spokeswoman Anita Gore. “There just isn’t enough information (for an analysis),” she said.

The California Democratic Party decided last weekend that it would not endorse the initiative and opted to stay neutral.  L.A. County’s Democratic Party vice chairman, Eric Bauman, said the political implications of such an endorsement could hurt the party’s contenders in this year’s elections. “We don’t want to see a decision affect Democratic candidates like Brown, Boxer, and Harris,” Bauman said.

The No on 19 campaign says this is good news.

“It was a win to get them (the Democratic Party) to go neutral. (Supporters of the measure) fought hard to get a support position and they lost that,” says Acosta.

But the Yes on 19 campaign isn’t phased.    

“We’ve assumed all politicians would be opposed,” says Yes on 19 campaign strategist Dan Newman.

Newman calls the Party’s neutrality “a tremendous victory,” and is surprised by the few officials who have chosen to support the measure, “Namely Pete Stark, Barbara Lee, and George Miller,” says Newman.  

The California Young Democrats also sent in their endorsement for Proposition 19 this past weekend.

 The NAACP’s Alice Huffman spoke in support of the measure and helped draft the measure’s rebuttal argument to be included on November’s ballot.

In an article advocating for Proposition 19, Huffman wrote “As leaders of the California NAACP, it is our mission to eradicate injustice and continue the fight for civil rights and social justice… We are therefore compelled to speak out against…the so called ‘war on drugs.’ …This is not a war on the drug lords and violent cartels, this is a war that disproportionately affects young men and women and the latest tool for imposing Jim Crow justice on poor African-Americans.”

Newman says the campaign is built on support from individuals and organizations. “It’s always been a people-powered issue,” says Newman.

But the No on 19 campaign says the measure is losing some of that people power, citing a Field Poll released July 9 that shows Proposition 19 at a narrow 4 percent disadvantage.

The NAACP’s endorsement of Proposition 19 set off a chain reaction of opposition from African American communities. Sacramento religious leader Ron Allen criticized Huffman’s endorsement and called for her resignation.

“Why would the state NAACP advocate for blacks to stay high?” asked Allen at a press conference.

Allen has joined with other religious leaders to oppose Proposition  19.

Nevertheless, Newman says he is “feeling cautiously optimistic.”

“A significant number of retired police chiefs…people who have been in the front lines are saying it’s time to regulate and tax marijuana.”

Those retirees will have to contend with current law enforcement officers.

The California Police Chiefs Association is opposed and the California Narcotics Officers Association recently cut a check to the No campaign for $

More officials and organizations are expected to disclose their positions on the issue this week.

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