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California Voters to Decide
Marijuana Legalization

BY MICHAEL FOUST                                                                                                ©2010 Baptist Press

The battle for Congress may be in the political spotlight, but California is competing for attention with a ballot initiative that would make the state the first in the nation to legalize the growth, sale and recreational use of marijuana.

Although California, 13 other states, and the District of Columbia already allow marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, the California initiative--known as Prop 19--would go much further, allowing people 21 and older to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana for any reason. Businesses would be able to sell marijuana, and individuals would be allowed to grow their own marijuana in an area not larger than 25 square feet.

Prop 19 supporters are hailing it as a way to raise taxes and reprioritize police resources toward harder crimes, and they hope California serves as a model for the rest of the nation. But critics say it would only increase the number of marijuana and drug users-- particularly among young adults and teens--and actually would lead to an uptick in crime. They also say any tax revenues--which the initiative would require go to local governments and not to the state-- would be dwarfed by the social costs of its legalization.

Polls show voters are split on Prop 19, with some polls showing it slightly leading but under 50 percent. The election is November 2.

Marijuana has been illegal on the federal level since 1937. "If you legalize marijuana, you have another behavior-controlling substance that kids are now going to see as being normal," said Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego. Clark opposes Prop 19. "It is only going to take two to three generations before that becomes widely accepted and that anybody who smokes marijuana is just part of the mainstream.

"Once it's legalized, it becomes acceptable in the eyes of many. But just because something is legal doesn't mean it's morally right."

The initiative has resulted in an odd coalition on both sides that does not follow the normal political and ideological divide. The opposition has had more high-profile endorsements. Opposing Prop 19 are both Democratic U.S. senators (Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein), the Democratic state attorney general (Jerry Brown), the Republican and Democratic candidates for governor, several major newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and the Contra Costa Times, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California District Attorneys Association and the California Police Chiefs Association. Supporting it is the Service Employees International Union, which is a large statewide union, along with the California NAACP and former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara.
 
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