US NEWS CALIF-MARIJUANA LA

Going to the inauguration? Roll one up.

Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times file

Making a recommendation about a ballot initiative is not the same as handicapping a race. Even when the polls seem to indicate voters’ strong support, it is sometimes necessary to swim against the political tide.

And that’s what The Californian is doing with Proposition 64, the November ballot initiative that proposes to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California.

No doubt, the recreational use of marijuana will someday — likely soon — become legal. But that day should not be today. Simply, California is not prepared to become the epicenter of the nation’s marijuana industry.

Proposition 64 was written by and for special interests — mainly major corporations and investors, who will reap billions upon billions of dollars from sales. It was not written to protect the public’s interests.

Missing in the complex, 62-page initiative are:

  • Testing regulations and standards. This includes criteria to determine if drivers are operating motor vehicles under the influence.
  • The ability to effectively and efficiently enforce rules and standards.

With voters’ passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, California became the first state to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. And in the 20 years that followed, legislators only have tinkered with regulating the industry — loosely defining its scope, what agency should regulate it, and reducing criminal penalties for use and possession.

It wasn’t until last year that lawmakers sent Gov. Jerry Brown a package of bills that actually established statewide regulations, specifying how medical marijuana is grown and distributed, and how marijuana businesses are licensed and pay fees. The new laws also established a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

But implementation of this new regulatory system only began earlier this year. While the regulatory bugs are a long way from satisfactory finalization, Proposition 64 supporters now want to expand the marijuana industry to include sales for recreational use.

Consider the numbers: If voters approve Proposition 64, it will put California’s marijuana sales on track to hit $6.5 billion a year by 2020. This is up from $2.8 billion in 2015. With just medical marijuana sales, California already accounts for nearly half of the nation’s total legal cannabis sales — and that includes sales in the few states, such as Colorado, that recently legalized recreational use.

Researchers believe passage of Proposition 64 will result in California becoming the nation’s cannabis epicenter.And to handle this explosive market, Proposition 64 patterns the sale, distribution and oversight of marijuana after the liquor industry, which is a major supporter of the initiative. Proponents claim this will provide sufficient safeguards to keep marijuana out of children’s hands and limit use to adults 21 years of age and older.

They also claim marijuana advertising will be kept away from children.

Why should we believe these proposed safeguards will be any more successful than safeguards geared toward children, alcohol and tobacco? Or that manufacturers and distributors will be any more committed to that cause?

Equally disturbing is Proposition 64’s silence when it comes to establishing a THC limit to address driving under the influence of marijuana. Some states have set a THC limit of 5 nanograms (a billionth of a gram) per milliliter of blood. There is no such limit in Proposition 64. In any case, research is still ongoing to develop an effective and accurate roadside test to allow law enforcement officers to determine the content of THC in a driver’s blood.

The best and most responsible thing voters can do in November is to reject Proposition 64. Allow time for the new medical marijuana rules to be fully implemented and test driven before the state becomes a recreational marijuana epicenter.

And voters must insist that a future legalization ballot measure be focused on the public’s interest and not just on corporate and investor profits.