by Andrew Schenkel | Forbes.com
Law students around the country argue to pass California’s Prop. 19.
CALIFORNIA — On Tuesday voters in the Golden State will be able to decide if marijuana will remain an illegal drug by voting for or against Prop. 19 on the California ballot. Prop. 19 has gotten the attention of groups all around the country, and those hoping to “legalize it” don’t exactly fit the cliché of dreadlocked, jobless, munchie-craving stoners.
Thousands of miles away from California’s borders, in one of the squarest, lamest and most uptight cities in the nation (Washington, D.C.), law students at one of America’s most prestigious universities are making the “intelligent” argument for legalization. Members of Georgetown University’s Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) have devoted some of their time this week to calling voters in California and urging them to vote “yes” on Prop. 19.
“It’s not a bunch of hippies sitting around,” said one of the members of the group, who asked to remain anonymous to not draw attention to himself. “We all have short hair. Many of us have pretty anti-hippie aspirations after law school. Some of us want to do corporate law, or tax law or even litigation once we get our law degrees,” he said. He added that he voted for George W. Bush twice and tends to vote along Libertarian ideologies.
The arguments the members make for legalization all involve economics, law enforcement and legitimizing the legal system. Of course that last point is part of the organization’s argument. After all, these people eat, drink and breathe legal issues all day.
The economic arguments the members of SSDP make involve increasing tax revenues and savings in tax expenditures. A recent report on Good Morning America shows how mainstream these arguments have become. The report claims that legalizing marijuana would save the state $1 billion on law enforcement, generate an estimated $350 million in taxable revenue and make marijuana a $14 billion industry, nearly twice the size of California’s dairy industry, the state’s next biggest agriculture industry.
“But, it’s not always about what makes sense economically,” said another law student and member of SSDP, who spent time phone-banking this week. “One resident I talked with had a lengthy conversation with me that kept coming back to him saying ‘But, it’s illegal.’ I was like, ‘Yeah that’s what we are trying to change.’ ”
Others aren’t moved by the economic side of the argument and take a moral approach to Prop. 19. “We get the ‘gateway drug thing’ a lot, but we talk about how several studies show that that is just bunk. We make a distinction between good drugs and bad drugs. It’s not morally right to have a country that lumps pot in with cocaine and heroine, while it’s totally cool to use tobacco and drink alcohol. Furthermore, it makes people think harder drugs seem OK because they are treated no differently than pot.”
For these reasons, SSDP chapters are using law enforcement professionals to talk to people about drug policy. Former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara took to the California airwaves recently, encouraging a “yes” vote on Prop. 19. In the 30-second spot McNamara argues, “Today it’s easier for a teenager to buy pot than beer.” McNamara also argues that legalization “will allow police to focus on violent crimes and put drug cartels out of business.”
Law students in favor of Prop. 19 are making the same argument. “Al Capone and murder and mob violence came out of prohibition,” said one SSDP member. “As future lawyers, we don’t want that. We don’t want violence or untaxed organized crime, or unequal drug regulation that makes our legal system appear illegitimate. We just want things to be fair and sensible.”
As with any political argument, there are likely legitimate arguments for both passing and rejecting Prop. 19. And, while there is little doubt there are stoners rallying for the passage of Prop. 19, there is also a motivated, intelligent and legitimate organization behind the legalization movement.
In fact, law students and several other organizations similar to SSDP are phone-banking and campaigning right up to Election Day. They are armed with facts, reason and even some legal background, so I’d be careful before I argue with them–let alone attempt an unwarranted search of their pockets.
Andrew Schenkel is the political blogger for the Mother Nature Network.