More than 65 professors of law from universities nation-wide gave their endorsement on Tuesday to California ballot initiative Prop. 19, which would allow for the regulation and taxation of the state's cannabis trade, potentially generate millions in new revenue for the cash-strapped state.
The professors, from schools such as Yale, Harvard, Georgetown, New York University, UCLA, Berkeley, George Mason University, Emory and the Washington College of Law, signed an open letter published by the "Yes on 19" campaign, all calling for legalization.
"Our communities would be better served if the criminal justice resources we currently spend to investigate, arrest, and prosecute people for marijuana offenses each year were redirected toward addressing unsolved violent crimes," they opined. "In short, the present policy is causing more harm than good, and is eroding respect for the law.
"Moreover, we are deeply troubled by the consistent and dramatic reports of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against young people of color. Marijuana laws were forged in racism, and have been demonstrated to be inconsistently and unfairly applied since their inception. These are independent reasons for their repeal."
The professors' endorsement comes on the heels of a CNN interview with former US Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, who told the network that she supports legalization of marijuana.
"I don't think much could be worse than the present situation that we have," she said, "when we have the highest number of people in the world being criminalized, many for non-violent crimes related to marijuana."
"Marijuana is not addictive -- not physically addictive anyway," Elders added. "Nobody says that marijuana causes violence. As we know alcohol can cause much more aggressiveness. You aren't as likely to hurt someone from using marijuana as you are from using alcohol."
Opponents of legalization, which includes every Democrat running for statewide office, say that Prop. 19 would make highways and workplaces less safe, and warn that its passage could jeopardize the flow of federal money into the state.
In spite of the high profile endorsements, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced last week that he would continue enforcing federal law no matter what California's voters do on Nov. 2.
"We will vigorously enforce the [law] against those individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture or distribute marijuana for recreational use, even if such activities are permitted under state law," he said.
The substance is already decriminalized in California. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered that marijuana possession be dropped to the lowest rung of offenses due to the state's budgetary constraints, meaning that any adult caught with under one ounce will only be required to pay a $100 fine.
While polls showing voters favor Prop. 19's passage have dominated coverage of the shifting opinion trends, a recent Reuters survey found for the first time that public sentiment had shifted against it.
Days later, a Field Poll found quite the opposite, claiming that 49 percent of California voters are in favor, while 42 percent are opposed.
Even compared to California's lucrative market for wine, marijuana remains the state's most valuable cash crop with annual sales topping $14 billion, according to state data.
President Obama, though a stated proponent of marijuana decriminalization, maintains his opposition to outright legalization.
The law professors' full open letter to California voters follows. Click here to view a list of signatories.
To the Voters of California:
As law professors at many law schools who focus on various areas of legal scholarship, we write this open letter to encourage a wholesale rethinking of marijuana policy in this country, and to endorse the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative—Proposition 19—that will be voted on in November in California.
For decades, our country has pursued a wasteful and ineffective policy of marijuana prohibition. As with alcohol prohibition, this approach has failed to control marijuana, and left its trade in the hands of an unregulated and increasingly violent black market. At the same time, marijuana prohibition has clogged California’s courts alone with tens of thousands of non-violent marijuana offenders each year. Yet marijuana remains as available as ever, with teens reporting that it is easier for them to buy than alcohol across the country.
Proposition 19 would remove criminal penalties for private use and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana by adults and allow California localities to adopt—if they choose—measures to regulate commerce in marijuana. Passage of Proposition 19 would be an important next step toward adopting an approach more grounded in reason, for California and beyond.
Our communities would be better served if the criminal justice resources we currently spend to investigate, arrest, and prosecute people for marijuana offenses each year were redirected toward addressing unsolved violent crimes. In short, the present policy is causing more harm than good, and is eroding respect for the law.
Moreover, we are deeply troubled by the consistent and dramatic reports of disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws against young people of color. Marijuana laws were forged in racism, and have been demonstrated to be inconsistently and unfairly applied since their inception. These are independent reasons for their repeal.
Especially in the current economic climate, we must evaluate the efficacy of expensive government programs and make responsible decisions about the use of state resources. We find the present policies toward marijuana to be bankrupt, and urge their rethinking.
This country has an example of a path from prohibition. Alcohol is subject to a regulatory framework that is far safer in every respect than the days of Al Capone. Just like the State of New York did when it rolled back Prohibition 10 years before the nation as a whole, California should show leadership and restore respect for the law by enacting the Tax and Control Cannabis 2010 initiative this November.