In a surprising announcement yesterday, San Jose's former police chief of 35 years has endorsed Proposition 19, California's controversial ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Joe McNamara, now retired, compared the ban on marijuana to the days of prohibition, when the Federal Government banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. He further argues that the ban on pot (as opposed to its use) is the cause of the crime and violence that many people associate with the drug.
Specifically, McNamara says:
Like an increasing number of law enforcers, I have learned that most bad things about marijuana -- especially the violence made inevitable by an obscenely profitable black market -- are caused by the prohibition, not by the plant. Legal marijuana is long overdue, but leading up to November, wrongheaded opponents will implore Californians with the same old mistaken arguments to stay the course. Prohibition advocates will promote fear, and they will ignore the vast bulk of law enforcement and medical experience on marijuana. People should not be fooled by cannabis opponents' appeal to prejudices and emotions
In an article written for the San Francisco Chronicle, the former police chief refutes four dire claims made by opponents to Proposition 19:
1. Empirical statistical evidence shows that legalizing cannabis will lower its use among young people, 18-35 years of age. McNamara cites other countries that have no bans on marijuana and suggests that marijuana use is much lower than in the United States. In fact, America has the highest usage rate of marijuana. McNamara further cites a Columbia University study that states underage people find it easier to obtain pot than alcohol.
2. Lifting the ban will not add another drug to the already increasing list of available drugs and narcotics. Further, cannabis use will be highly regulated under the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. And, incidentally, this increase in revenue may save public employee jobs including teachers and police.
3. Legalizing pot will dampen gang control and sales of the drug and reduce crime associated with gangs. McNamara points out that: "Al Capone and his rivals made machine-gun battles a staple of 1920s city street life when they fought to control the illegal alcohol market. No one today shoots up the local neighborhood to compete in the beer market."
4. Proposition 19 will not lead to more DUIs and other crimes. Use of pot will be highly regulated and driving under the influence of a drug is illegal anyway. Further, police will be able to enforce these crimes more effectively if freed from having to make "petty busts" such as mere possession or under the influence (when not driving).
Chief McNamara makes several good points, but we will have to wait and see if the public agrees with his reasoning. The people will vote on the initiative this November 2, 2010. To read McNamara's full article click here.
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