Just days ago, Proposition 19's prospects seemed shaky. A Los Angeles Times/USC poll found likely voters opposing it by 51% to 39%, and the Yes on Prop. 19 campaign was short on funds. Then George Soros, the billionaire financier and philanthropist with a long-standing interest in loosening drug laws, resuscitated its chances with a last-minute $1-million donation.
In a statement outlining his support for ending marijuana prohibition, Soros said, "Regulating and taxing marijuana would simultaneously save taxpayers billions of dollars in enforcement and incarceration costs, while providing billions of dollars in revenue annually." Legalizing marijuana, he added, would "also reduce crime, violence and corruption associated with drug markets, and restore civil liberties lost by the mass incarceration of otherwise law-abiding citizens."
Well, maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't. But those broad, sweeping arguments for legalizing marijuana don't really speak to the numerous problems with this badly drafted ballot measure. The Times completely agrees that there are deep flaws in the nation's drug policy. We're even willing to concede that there might be benefits to ending the ban on pot. But a close look at Proposition 19 suggests that it is the wrong vehicle to accomplish that.
That the so-called drug war has been a disaster is widely acknowledged. Even the Obama administration has abandoned the terminology and places increasingly greater emphasis on prevention and treatment rather than incarceration of low-level drug users. Rather than making marijuana unavailable or reducing consumption, prohibition has led to the imprisonment of 750,000 people a year on possession charges, a black market that fuels gang rivalries and contributes to the violence among the Mexican drug cartels, and an unequal enforcement of drug laws that has fallen heaviest on black and Latino communities.