Commentary: California's marijuana legalization proposition blows too much smoke

California ought to have a serious debate on whether to legalize marijuana for personal use. If lawmakers won't confront the issue, it might even be time for a ballot initiative to change the law.

Proposition 19 is not the right one.

The measure on the Nov. 2 ballot is full of worrisome loopholes and ambiguities that would create a chaotic nightmare for law enforcement, local governments and businesses. It is so poorly drafted, in fact, that it almost makes you wonder: What were they smoking?

The measure would allow Californians 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow marijuana on up to 25 square feet of private property. Supporters say it would control and tax marijuana. It would do neither.

Indeed, many of the positives that proponents advertise aren't actually written into the measure. For instance, they say that legalization would generate a huge financial windfall for the state and local governments by taxing $14 billion in annual illegal sales, plus create thousands of jobs for California's struggling economy. They cite the state Board of Equalization's estimate last year of $1.4 billion in annual tax revenues, enough to take a huge bite out of the budget deficit.

But nowhere in the measure is a specific tax proposal. That issue is left entirely to the Legislature and local governments, so there are no guarantees about any pot taxes and whether they would be fair.

Supporters also argue that, like the end of failed prohibition of alcohol, the proposition would free the criminal justice system of the burden of prosecuting marijuana crimes.

But California effectively decriminalized most personal marijuana use and possession 34 years ago. People caught with less an ounce of pot – and not charged with other crimes – typically are fined $100 or less and rarely set foot in a courtroom, much less a jail.

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