Debra J. Saunders

But the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition includes a growing number of former cops and prosecutors who support Proposition 19 because they want to starve criminal enterprises.

Stephen Downing, a former Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, likened drug gangs to a starfish -- cut off one limb, and they grow another. "If you take away 60 percent of the cartels' traffic, it will have a real impact on their profits," Downing told me.

"California's No. 1 cash crop is marijuana," he added. California growers, under regulation and paying taxes, could squeeze Mexican cartels out of the trade.

Downing told me he sees it as his "patriotic duty" to fight for Proposition 19. ?Dunbar called the measure "too loosey-goosey." Proposition 19 leaves it to local governments to decide if they want to regulate and tax the production and sale of marijuana -- and that means different laws for different locales.

But as attorney James Wheaton, who wrote the measure, explained, "Oakland is going to have completely different issues than Humboldt County." Communities that want to ban the sale of marijuana will be free to do so.

When I was younger, I knew kids who started using drugs and never reached their full potential. ?Today, I have a lot of successful friends who used marijuana when they were younger, are glad they never were arrested, but say they will vote against Proposition 19 because they don't want to send the wrong message. In part, I think, they want the government to do their parenting for them.

But it's wrong to criminalize behavior -- possession of up to an ounce of (nonmedical) marijuana remains a misdemeanor in California -- to send a message. You criminalize behavior that threatens public safety. While marijuana use can threaten public safety, in every way, laws against marijuana enrich criminal cartels.

What is the benefit? In order to decrease the chance of kids using drugs -- by what, 1 percent? -- the public for years has backed laws that fuel violent and criminal practices.

Two years before repeal of Prohibition, smart people were convinced that Prohibition would never be overturned. Its author proclaimed that there was as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there was for a hummingbird to fly to Mars "with the Washington Monument tied to its tail."

Okrent told me he didn't know he was for Proposition 19 until he started promoting his book. "People are going to consume this stuff," he told me.

It's just that simple. That's why the law doesn't work.

Debra J. Saunders

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