Forcing notions of proper lifestyle or of private personal behavior on all of society is usually problematic even when a relatively small minority resists the imposition. Banning any substance that is in high demand, even by a minority of the population, generates a spectacularly lucrative and corrupting black-market that not only thwarts effective enforcement but also leads to a transmutation of law enforcement into something resembling a police state. By abolishing a victimless personal choice, prohibition makes criminals of otherwise decent citizens.

Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn

Drug prohibition has distracted American law enforcement from protecting the public from real crime to focus on a futile war on drugs that does little more than net the police more power and more funding — the latter including, most egregiously, broad confiscatory powers that allow police to appropriate the property of anyone even suspected of being involved in drug trafficking. America’s war on drugs is transmogrifying our police into uniformed thugs overzealously, and too often mistakenly, busting down doors, confiscating property, and injuring, killing or incarcerating folks who have hurt no one.

Moreover, prohibition creates real crime, violent crime, here and abroad. The savage violence plaguing Mexico today is a direct result of America’s obstinate, irrational, insistence on continuing drug prohibition.

With Proposition 19, Californians have an opportunity to begin putting an end to this prohibition insanity. California has long been the nation’s avant-garde exemplar leading the nation into needed socio-cultural change. Passing Prop. 19 would continue that role.

The arguments against Prop. 19 are exemplified in a recent editorial by the Los Angeles Times and in a commentary by Gov.Arnold Schwarzenegger. Both warn that legalizing marijuana would endanger public safety. However, considering the vicious zeal with which law enforcement has conducted the war on drugs, and the savagery of the turf wars among drug gangs, the public is more in danger from prohibition than it is from fellow citizens choosing to use marijuana.

The Times stresses that because legalizing marijuana would put California in direct confrontation with federal law, Prop. 19 should not be passed. But, the state’s voters have already defied the feds by allowing medical marijuana, and even though the peeved feds descended on the state like grand inquisitors punishing all heretics, California has stood its ground. This display of perseverance for freedom, common sense and compassion has encouraged other states to follow California’s lead.

Both the Times and Schwarzenegger belittle the financial aspect of Prop. 19 — taxing marijuana. The expected tax money, $1.4 billion, is insignificant they say. If $1.4 billion is insignificant why are plenty of politicians promising to find a billion or so here and a billion or so there? Why, because it all adds up. Other than the indefensibly gluttonous public-employee pensions, how many single huge windfall targets are there that could help save California from financial failure? Pennies make dollars, and billions make hundreds of billions of dollars.

The Los Angeles Times fears that because Prop. 19 would allow each local jurisdiction to individually regulate marijuana there would be regulatory chaos in the state. Yet, after the nation came to its senses and ended the prohibition on alcohol, many states had jurisdictions with varying regulations on alcohol, including dry counties. Those states did not collapse into chaos, and neither will California if Prop. 19 passes.

And, since when are local self-determination and self-government bad things? Isn’t our current Democratic candidate for governor advocating just that: bringing power closer to the people and away from its concentration in Sacramento? How many Californians still believe that the venal, polarized politicians in Sacramento can govern in the best interests of the state rather than for special interests within the state?

Agreed, Prop. 19 is not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It is a needed step forward to reason, freedom and justice. Ironically, in supporting federal health-care reform, the Times argued that even with its deficiencies, the progress the law provided made it worth passing. The deficiencies could be addressed latter. What was most important was to get the ball rolling. Why isn’t that same argument being applied to marijuana legalization under Prop. 19?

Freedom, common sense and justice usually don’t come easily. There are always powerful forces of ignorance, selfishness and entrenched privilege arrayed against them. Sometimes you need to stop talking and do something to make needed changes. Given the federal jihad against marijuana, passing Prop. 19 may be more symbolic than effectual, but then so was dumping tea into Boston harbor. Look where that led.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at