Prop 19 Pot Legalization: Politico Parachutes In, Offers Little

Politico dropped into California to report on Prop. 19, California's pot legalization voter initiative, and here's what they offered:

Cheesy, snarky headline (California Dreaming For Legal Pot Advocates); point-and-laugh lede about Oaksterdam; perfunctory paragraph about why legalization might be a good idea; a lot of establishment voices arguing against; horse race speculation, including, of course, polls, though not with Nate Silver's insightful analysis that we noted at the Weekly; inside baseball about why deep-pocketed drug reform backers like George Soros and Peter Lewis aren't spending money this year. In short, it was your basic Politico story, God love them.

Unfortunately, we can expect a lot of similar treatment from gawking media flying in from the Acela Corridor. (The Acela being the northeast's high-speed rail -- seeing Howard Fineman or some such is considered a celebrity sighting.)

It's to be expected, but it's also a little irritating. While the East Coast media industrial complex huffs and puffs about a mosque that isn't a mosque at a place that isn't Ground Zero, things are happening out in the country -- decisions are being made that will have an immediate impact on people's lives.

In the case of California, we have Prop 8 litigation. And Prop. 19, which will ask voters to consider the efficacy of America's four decade "War on Drugs," specifically marijuana, and determine if we should end it.

It's a big deal, and it raises a lot of important policy questions. As Politico notes, to their credit, if it passes, it will have a tremendous impact on the fate of drug laws in the rest of the country, as states considering decriminalization see if the policy works.

Back to those policy questions. The Rand Institute published a compelling study last month. Among the findings:

The pretax retail price of marijuana will substantially decline, likely by more than 80 percent. Consumption will increase, but it is unclear how much, because neither the shape of the demand curve nor the level of tax evasion (which reduces revenues and the prices consumers face) is known. Tax revenues could be dramatically lower or higher than the $1.4 billion estimate; for example, uncertainty about the federal response to California legalization can swing estimates in either direction. Previous studies find that the annual cost of enforcing current marijuana laws ranges from around $200 million to nearly $1.9 billion; estimates from this study show that the costs are probably less than $300 million.

There's a lot to chew on there.

Then there's the question of racial profiling: A Drug Policy Alliance report showed that African-Americans in L.A. County are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though there's evidence blacks smoke at lower rates than whites.

Indeed, as the Weekly reported last week, a national black police officers association endorsed Prop 19, saying marijuana prohibition has taken a toll on black communities especially.

Let's hope out-of-state media will treat Prop. 19 with the seriousness it deserves, though coming from the Beltway, that might be too much to ask.


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