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Marijuana on the Ballot; Debate Over Legalizing Marijuana

Aired October 9, 2010 - 09:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, top of the hour here now. Hello to you all once again. I'm T.J. Holmes.

This time every Saturday we spend this 9:00 a.m. Eastern half hour on one hot topic that affects us all. And today the debate over Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana in California again for recreational use but could also set the stage for legalization all over this country.

Medicinal marijuana is legal, recreational use is not. Now, also, there are several states who have what's called decriminalized marijuana. Now, that -- we need to explain a little bit. Just because something has been decriminalized does not mean it's legal

So what these states have done - let me explain this. What this means when you decriminalize in those particular states you're only fined if you're caught with a small amount of marijuana, specified amount, rather than face jail time and a mark on your criminal record. That's decriminalize. It's kind of like getting a speeding ticket', running a stop sign, getting a ticket for that.

Now, it's important to note that even if California votes to legalize marijuana for recreational use, it would still violate federal law to use it in this country. But still, for all intents and purposes, the federal government not going to prosecute a minor offender. So for all intents and purposes, practical reasons, this would mean that the legal use of marijuana for recreational use, it would be legal in California.

Now, voters will have a chance to change the laws on marijuana in several states next month, not just California. Let's let CNN's Joe Johns get us caught up.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Not one, not two, not three, but four states have initiatives on the ballot this fall that would change their marijuana laws in big ways.

And one of those initiatives, the one in California proposition 19, it's called would pretty much legalize retail sales of the drug for recreational use. That's right, if the voters go for it, what once was called the gateway drug, the so-called evil weed that led to cocaine, heroin, ruined lives and sent thousands upon thousands to jail could that suddenly after all these years become OK to do for fun in California. The three other states with pending legislation, Oregon, South Dakota, and Arizona are looking to either legalize marijuana for medical purposes or to modify the medical marijuana laws they already have in place.

It turns out coast-to-coast, 14 states and the District of Columbia already allow medical use, which is something a former national anti-drug czar sees as a problem. To him, this stuff is like booze, and if legalized, it'll have the same negative effect on society.

JOHN WALTERS, THE HUDSON INSTITUTE: An intoxicant does make people feel euphoric. In fact, it's part of the pathway to addiction. That doesn't mean there's medical Jack Daniels or that there's medical meth or medical crack or medical heroin. This is - this is a sham.

JOHNS: OK. So how did we get here anyway? Especially considering all the reminders we've had about the evils of marijuana, the old black and white movie "Reefer Madness" warning the public about it --


JOHNS: -- or former first lady Nancy Reagan's famous "just say no to drugs" campaign in the 1980s?

Criminologist Peter Reuter says attitudes have changed about marijuana especially since medical marijuana, though controversial, has become a legal realty.

PETER REUTER, EXPERT, DRUG MARKETS & DRUG POLICY: It does give an aura of usefulness to this drug which previously in every public presentation by any official agency was always very negative.

JOHNS: Use of the drug hasn't exactly skyrocketed recently. But the one thing that has changed is the economy. Money-hungry states are looking for new sources of revenue. And already wondering whether pot is the next cash crop.

REUTER: Governments certainly are - if they become promoters of legalized marijuana, if legislators - it's clearly for in most cases will be for revenue reasons.

JOHNS (on camera): Still some predict legalization in California could cause chaos starting in the courts, such as state law if passed would clash with federal law, launching a big battle that could end up in the Supreme Court.

(voice-over): But at least for now, it's all just a pipe dream, with a lot of speculation, though the world of drug enforcement could look a lot different when the smoke clears on election day.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: And we did reach out to the California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for comment. His representatives, though, told us he wouldn't comment on things that are on the ballot.

But it was just a couple of weeks ago he did write this in the "Los Angeles Times" editorial. And I quote, "Any patrol officer, judge or district attorney will tell you that Proposition 19 is flawed. It's a flawed initiative that would bring about a host of legal nightmares and risk the public safety. It would also make California a laughing stock."

Well, coming up, two people who are not laughing in this argument over legalizing marijuana out in California. The two leading - the leading spokespeople for and against Prop 19 will join me right here, live.

It's four minutes past the hour. Stay with us.


HOLMES: Seven minutes past the hour now. The debates going on right now in California over Prop 19 about legalizing marijuana for recreational use. We've got leading spokespeople right now for both sides of this issue.

I want to bring in Roger Salazar who is a spokesman for the group spearheading the fight against Prop 19 and then on the other side, Dale Sky Jones joins us. She's in favor of the proposal. They join me both this morning.

Thank you guys, both, for being here.

Miss Jones, let me start with you. Is the argument for legalizing marijuana for recreational use, is it primarily, for you, an economic argument?

DALE SKY JONES, SPOKESMAN, YES ON PROP 19: Well, frankly, current policy has failed across the board. And we have an opportunity to have safer communities. If we simply choose to control, tax and regulate cannabis for adult use. This will also allow us to finally regulate medical effectively, which we have not yet been able to do here in California.

As far as the interpretation as to whether or not store front sales are legal. So this will also help protect medical patients that are still, in fact, going to jail. And it's about jobs.

HOLMES: Well, Miss Jones, you said it makes the community safer. How does it do so, in your estimation?

JONES: Cannabis is currently more accessible to our children than alcohol, than any other drug on the street. And we've put full control in the hands of our criminals. We need to take it out of the hands of criminals, take away their profit margins, which are estimated at over 60 percent due to illegal marijuana sales. We need to take that out of the hands of criminals and put it into the hands of our cities and counties and even our state legislature to regulate, control and tax. Make sure that we're not selling it to children under 21. Also we're banning smoking in front of kids and smoking in public.

HOLMES: OK. Are we shifting that profit margin you speak of - we're shifting it from the criminals like you say - are we shifting it then to other folks who the legal - people who have a license to sell it and also to the government. And I guess what keeps a kid who is 17 or 18, I know it's supposed to be only 21 that you can smoke, but getting a 21-year-old, an adult to go buy for you legally, that sounds like pretty easy access for a kid, as well?

JONES: Well, frankly it's easier now. You know, what you're suggesting is similar to alcohol where, you know, frankly you have to go in and convince an adult as you said but right now you just walk around to the back of the 7-11 or convenience store and you'll find four people that are willing to sell it to you, not ID you and then turn around and offer you more drugs.

Much of this gateway theory that has been completely debunked by the Institute of Medicine, the World's Health Organization, the Schaeffer Commission and the American Medical Association. The Gateway Theory is that theory of politics, not science. The real gateway is that these dealers are offering our kids more drugs when they're behind that convenience store.

HOLMES: Well, Roger, let me bring you in here. It sounds like, hey, what's wrong with that? It sounds like you would put drug dealers out of business.

ROGER SALAZAR, SPOKESMAN, NO ON PROP 19: well, look, you know, the concern that we have is all of the things that Dale just talked about. You know, controlling taxing and regulating marijuana.

Those things, you know, unfortunately this initiative doesn't do those things. It leaves it up to a patch work of 536 different local jurisdictions to come up with their own sort of systems on how they're going to deal with these things.

A couple of weeks ago, the board of legalization in California did an analysis of how much revenue could be generated from Proposition 19 and they said, they can't figure it out because there isn't a statewide system.

Like alcohol, you know, this is different that alcohol because you wouldn't have a statewide regulatory body controlling the entire system. And, in fact, it'll make it a lot easier for folks to get access to it. Look, if this drug is - one of the things that the Rand Study showed us was that, you know, the only thing that is certain about Proposition 19 is that drug use is going to go up.

I mean, if you make it legal and more accessible to people, you know, it all but guaranteeing that youth drug use is going to go up and that's not something that anybody wants. HOLMES: Well, Roger, I want to ask. You laid out arguments for - I mean, how are we going to get this together - get a system in place, a regulatory system in place and your concerns there. Are you concerned that what we've been told our whole lives, don't smoke weed, it's now going to be OK.

California is telling everybody it's OK and it's legal to smoke weed. Do you have a problem with that?

SALAZAR: Yes, there is a strong - very strong concern about that. Again, the Rand analysis said that, you know, usage would, you know, would double, go back to 1970s levels. That's something I think that, you know, let's not kid ourselves, that's something that the proponents of Proposition 19 want. You know, these are folks with big marijuana operations here in California.

You know, the person who pushed this initiative, Miss Jones' employer put $1.5 million of his own money to try to push for this thing because he's going to generate tremendous profits from this thing.

So make no mistake about it, they want use to go up. They want usage - they believe that this is a benign drug. They think that you should be able to use it just like caffeine and coffee, you know, smoke a little to take the edge off. They're not interested in the traffic safety concerns that we have, the public safety concerns that we have, or the revenue concerns that we have.

HOLMES: Well, Miss Jones -

SALAZAR: - this thing won't be able to generate the revenue that it claims that it will.

HOLMES: Miss Jones, I have to let you respond. He did make a direct accusation there that your employer, as he said, and others on your side have a financial stake in this.

JONES: Indeed, it's unfortunate that we continue on with the disingenuous remarks, not only about my employer who does not have any personal stake. In fact, it's really up to the cities and counties to opt in to regulation of medical or adult or, in fact, finally the hemp market, which is a non-psychoactive version that will finally offer, food, fiber, and clothing.

Mr. Lee has no direct involvement. It's unfortunate that we turn to personal slander. The truth of the matter is, at the end of the day, we are following the same path as what we followed to dismantle alcohol prohibition, which was county by county opt in. And we have that same opportunity. Cities and counties operate on a patch work throughout this country. In fact, California -

SALAZAR: There's a difference there.

JONES: - works with concealed weapons permits in the same way. So the scare tactics on county by county don't concern me because the locals know what's most important to their community. We're looking at over 300 million in savings from law enforcement alone. And we're estimating 1.4 billion in taxes.

And Mr. Salazar will say that's not to do with our initiative. However, Tom Ammiano already got it on the table. He's an assemblyman in California -

SALAZAR: That's a separate bill.


HOLMES: Go ahead and respond there, Mr. Salazar. Because I know there are concerns there. We have this bill, if it's passed - Prop 19 if it's passed, you still leave it up to the legislature to figure out how to work this stuff out.

SALAZAR: Yes, again, it's a backward system because (INAUDIBLE) what's going to happen. Again, you know, the states, they're sorry, the counties and the cities would have to opt in as she mentioned. They'd have to figure out whether or not they'd want to regulate the sales of marijuana. They have to figure out how they're going to set up a taxation system after marijuana has already been legalized. The things that will be legal whether the cities opt in or not, you know, and regardless of where you live.

You'll still be able to use marijuana. You'll still be able to possess it. You'd still be able to transport it, grow it. And you'll still be able to grow it. And do all of those things without paying taxes on them. And again, without having to have any sort of control over those things and then the cities can come in and regulate those things.

But again, it's a backwards approach and I don't think it's one California -

HOLMES: Miss Jones, I want to ask you this just as simple as possible here. What are we saying to our kids? In this country if we have been telling them - I mean since I was a kid, since all of us were kids to stay away from drugs. We've been told that marijuana is a drug. And now we're going to say to them it's legal and it's OK to smoke marijuana. What are we sending as a message to young folks?

JONES: Well, we're actually finally being honest with our young folks and getting our integrity back by explaining the true dangers of cannabis and to also the fact that you need to wait until you're 21 just like other regulated items.


HOLMES: Do you see them as dangerous, Miss Jones?

JONES: Indeed.

HOLMES: Yes, there are. OK.

JONES: The dangers, frankly, in cannabis is safer than alcohol. I want to make sure that we understand that cannabis cannot kill you. So giving adults a safer choice is a good thing. But at the end of the day, children should not be using it and it's important to control it away from children.

By voting yes on Prop 19, the voters of California have an opportunity to strike a larger blow at the criminal cartels than any law enforcement effort ever could. And it's carefully crafted. So I suggest that people read it to see how it interacts with other laws, protects drunk driving,-

SALAZAR: I would -

JONES: - make sure cops have the right.

HOLMES: Go ahead and wrap it up for me, Mr. Salazar.

SALAZAR: Yes, the one thing that Miss Jones and I agree with is that people should read this initiative and I think the ones they looked at it, we'll see that one of the things that this initiative does is it puts into place special protections, basically a civil right for marijuana users that prevent employers, especially those who are involved in transportation issues from drug testing employees, before they get behind the wheels of vehicles and before they, you know, they come on to the job.

It's one of the reasons that the Chamber of Commerce and the school administrators, cops, and sheriffs, you know, all around the state are opposed to it.

HOLMES: All right. Guys, I'll - I should have booked you guys for the half hour. Because there's so much more I want to ask you guys. But thank you, both. Miss Jones, Mr. Salazar.


HOLMES: You know what? I actually might do that, guys. I hope you wouldn't be opposed to it. There's so much, including about driving, people have concerns about that, about being - driving under the influence of marijuana. That was a big issue, as well, I wanted to get into. Thank you so much and we will be in touch. Thanks so much this morning. All right.

SALAZAR: No problem.

JONES: Thank you, have a great morning.

HOLMES: All right. And again, we're talking about the idea, as well of a possible major cash crop, some are saying. Well, we're going to be taking a look now at the potential economic impact when we come back. Stay here with us, 17 minutes past the hour.


HOLMES: Well, after more than three months of debates, accusations, and arguments, California finally has a budget. The California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed an $87.5 billion budget late last night for states like California with crippling deficits, some say selling marijuana legally could be an economic quick fix. Take a look at the economic impact of this potential industry. We're joined by Jeff Wilcox. He is the director of Agrimed, a non- profit company that grows medical marijuana in Oakland, California. He also commissioned a study to show how much revenue and jobs a single cannabis operation can generate.

Jeff, thank you for being here. Prop 19, good idea in your opinion?


HOLMES: Now, as your -

WILCOX: If you look at our -

HOLMES: Uh-huh, go ahead.

WILCOX: If you look at how cannabis is managed in our society, I think we can do a much better job.

HOLMES: A much better job. It sounds like yours is primarily an economic argument, fair to say?

WILCOX: When I looked around the city of Oakland and what the current economy was doing, the unemployment, the lost houses, I approached the community leaders and the leaders at city hall with an idea. If cannabis wasn't going to be eradicated from our society through the war on drugs, could we tax and regulate it and make jobs for the city of Oakland provide a new tax revenue for the city?

HOLMES: What were you able to find? Let's say Prop 19 goes through and you're able to expand a medical marijuana facility or growing operation into one for legal recreational use. How massive of an operation and how much money could be generated for a city for a city or for the state?

WILCOX: It was amazing what the economic report showed. I have a property that's approximately seven acres. When we looked at that property, we would produce approximately 316 jobs, union jobs. The average job - average pay across the board is 83,000 per individual.

The special tax that this would provide to the city of Oakland would be in excess of $5 million a year. So when you look at the city licensing for facilities like mine, you're looking at over 1,200 jobs and $20 million of tax incentive for the city. Not to mention another economic benefit of a resource to provide revenue for the city of Oakland for after school programs and child care activities.

HOLMES: Now, what is the danger as you see it in expanding the use, the legal use of marijuana for legal purposes? Do you see some down sides? And like you say, a lot of people might be looking at California. The governor there even said it would make us a laughing stock.

WILCOX: Exactly. And that's the downside. It's this old idea that eradication is the only way that this is going to work. I think the downside is the public perception that we've bought into this mismanagement as the approach. If you're going to have a war on drugs, eradicate it, let's get it over, and move on.

Wars can't carry on 100 years. I think I'm a pragmatist, I think we should manage this better. As a patriot, I think there's a better way for our society.

HOLMES: And you absolutely think, Mr. Wilcox, just to wrap it up. You think it would expand, I guess, the potential users out there? People out there, plenty of this country smoking marijuana, they get their hands on it even though it's illegal for recreational use. If it becomes legal for recreational use out there, how much is it going to expand, possibly, the number of people who want the stuff?

WILCOX: I don't think it will expand. Because if you want it now, you can get it. You've always been able to do that in our society. The only question now, are you going to buy it through criminals or are you going to buy it through a licensed regulated facility.

HOLMES: Are you going to buy it from Jeff Wilcox, potentially a drug dealer out there, a legal drug dealer after the election day. Mr. Wilcox, we do appreciate you being here. Fascinating story, fascinating debate. We look forward to seeing what happen on election day. So we appreciate your time this morning.

WILCOX: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right. Got a little test for our viewers, as well. Giving you some pop quizzes this morning. Got a marijuana pop quiz for you.

What year did the very first commission recommend decriminalizing marijuana in the U.S.? When was that? Back in 1961, was it 1972, or was it 1996? When was it? The answer after the break.


HOLMES: All right. Before the commercial break, we asked you what year the very first commission recommended decriminalizing marijuana in the U.S., 1961, was it '72, was it '96? It was actually B, you got it right, 1972.

Former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond Schaefer recommended to then President Nixon that marijuana be decriminalize. The very next year, Oregon became the first state to decriminalize the possession of less than one ounce of marijuana.

So hope you enjoyed our conversation this half hour of the day. Still a lot more to come on it as we get ready for the vote on Prop 19 in just about 24 days.

Well, once again recapping our top story we had today.

The breaking news we've seen in Chile. They have made a breakthrough to those 33 trapped miners in Chile. They've been there since August the 5th. We do know now the drill has made it through to them even though they won't start pulling men out until at least Tuesday or maybe later.

But a milestone, a breakthrough that they have been able to drill that tunnel all the way down to the men. So now the next phase of the rescue takes place. More on that coming at the top of the hour.

We continue with more live news right here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING. Right now, "YOUR BOTTOM LINE."