Prop. 19 puts legalization of marijuana in spotlight PasadenaStar-News / Bethania Palma Markus / 10/09/2010 A November ballot initiative may legalize recreational marijuana use, causing some to wonder what the broader implications could be. Voters will be asked via Proposition 19 whether California adults over 21 can legally have a gram or less and grow marijuana for recreational use. Supporters said passage could lead to nationwide legalization but critics claim the measure is flawed. "This initiative is so poorly worded it's going to create more problems. It puts California in direct conflict with federal law," said Covina police Chief Kim Raney. Robert Ortiz, director and manager of Whittier Hope Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary, said he supports decriminalization of pot but is concerned Proposition 19 will create more chaos. In 1996, Californians legalized medical marijuana with Proposition 215, but Ortiz said patchwork local regulation of dispensaries has wreaked havoc on patients. "The lack of leadership and implementation from local and state governments when it came to Prop. 215 disrespected the entire patient community," he said. "I really wish I could believe it would be implemented correctly." Tom Angell, spokesman for the Yes on 19 campaign, said support for legalizing marijuana is growing. He said he hopes passage of Proposition 19 will lead to national decriminalization. "Over the past couple years there's really been a shift in the public consciousness," he said. "If California votes yes on 19 you're definitely going to see a number of other states following suit." Thirteen other states legalized medical marijuana after California passed 215 and two weeks ago Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger reduced penalties for possession of one gram or less from a misdemeanor to an infraction. But the current initiative leaves much of the regulation and taxation up to local governments. Raney said that will create a law enforcement nightmare. Per the measure, "each one of the 478 cities in California and each of the 58 counties can come up with their own tax and regulation scheme," Raney said. "You're going to have theoretically over 500 regulating bodies." Angell said regulation of pot would fall to Alcoholic Beverage Control and state lawmakers are already working on legislation in preparation for the measure passing. "Local control and decision making is part of the bedrock of American democracy," Angell said. But problems could arise if California becomes the only state with legal recreational pot, some said. "Amsterdam has become a place for people all over Europe to go and use drugs, so there's kind of a danger to being the most liberal drug culture in the U.S.," said Robert Gore, associate director of clinical training and assistant professor of psychology at USC. "We'll probably attract people from all over the country or world who want to use the drug." The Dutch have backed off their liberal stance on marijuana to some degree, closing many pot-selling shops in an effort to clean up the capital's red light district some say has attracted organized crime. Gore said marijuana legalization could have societal impacts. Research has shown people predisposed to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are vulnerable to negative effects that could be long-term, he said. "There's an understanding even within the pro-marijuana culture that this is a lifestyle drug," he said. "People who use it on a regular basis tend to be low-key and less motivated to do things." Raney said further marijuana legalization in California could lead to the state being a distribution point for gangs. "It's naive to think the drug cartels who control about 60 percent of the marijuana trade in California will walk away from a market that's exploding and emerging (here)," he said. But Angell said one of the ultimate goals is to spark nationwide legalization of marijuana, leading to government regulation and taking gangs out of the picture. "There will continue to be a black market in other states but hopefully other states will follow California," he said. "It has to happen state by state." Raney said he couldn't see himself supporting any legislation that would legalize marijuana and said it comes down to one question. "There should be a national debate about this issue," he said. "Are we as a society ready to legalize another intoxicant and deal with the consequences of that?"