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A tale of two initiatives

As ballot-casting time draws near, it becomes increasingly important to gain a clearer, more complex understanding of the issues at stake this election. The Campanil staff have chosen two issues to explore and explain in hopes of helping to inform your important decision — Measure BB and Proposition 19.  Here for your participatory democracy viewing pleasure is our understanding of these initiatives and some questions to raise before marking those boxes this November.

Measure BB is a revision of the 2004 election’s Measure Y.  Under Measure Y, citizens of Oakland were taxed to fund the staffing of at least 739 police officers in the Oakland PD at all times.  The measure also provided that if this number was not maintained, taxes would no longer be collected.

In July of 2010, the city laid off 80 police officers— bringing the number employed to below the quota and preventing the city from collecting the taxes.   This is where Measure BB comes in:  it will remove the requirement of keeping 739 officers employed in order to collect taxes, postponing the deadline for meeting the employment quota until 2015.  Other changes the measure will make include loosening restrictions on what types of violence prevention programs may receive funding from the city, allowing the city to accrue debt and also allowing that debt to be paid by taxes collected from the measure, removing the existing requirements to keep at least 25 fire engines companies and offer mentorship programs at firehouses.  The amount taxable will be able to reach the full annual tax limit – $90.00 per year.

The full text of this initiative is not available for public viewing— this is one of many questionable aspects of Measure BB.  If the 739 officer employment requirement is postponed, it will excuse the city from re-hiring the 80 police officers laid off in July.  The measure will also protect the city from further litigation surrounding its inability to meet the Measure Y requirements — the city is already involved in an ongoing court case as a result of this inability.

Proponents of the measure argue that the funds raised will help to re-employ these officers and hire even more, but the fact remains that this is not written in the bill.   Increased coverage of violence prevention and youth and adult reentry programs seems to be a definite upside of the measure.  If this was made into a separate measure or was the only provision of Measure BB, there would be little contention within the staff to its merit.

Probably slightly more familiar as it has been more publicized — making its way onto T-shirts and billboards across California — is statewide Proposition 19.  Yes, you can already legally use marijuana if you have a “weed card,” but Prop. 19 would legalize a wider scope of “personal marijuana activities.”  If you’re 21 or over, you will be able to possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for personal consumption, grow marijuana at a private residence (as long as your weed garden remains confined to 25 square feet), and use marijuana in non-public places — i.e., residences, cannabis clubs and dispensaries.  The initiative will allow local governments to regulate the commercial production and sale of marijuana and allow the local governments to collect taxes and fees to raise income or to make up for any costs arising from marijuana’s regulation.  Also, Prop. 19 will authorize criminalizing certain marijuana-related activities, mostly similar to the way certain alcohol-related activities are criminalized:  i.e., selling marijuana to a minor and driving under the influence of marijuana will remain illegal.

Most of our staff are proponents of Prop. 19.  All drugs are dangerous when abused — including legal vices such as alcohol and cigarettes.  Except for those with medical cards, the only relationship condoned by current state law between marijuana and citizens is zero contact.  This is not the reality of California.  Legalization would promote and help to de-stigmatize the drug and develop a healthier relationship between cannabis and its many users.  Although Prop. 19’s allowance for local government regulation will make the state more involved in the distribution of marijuana, illegality is the harshest regulation a government can impose on a substance.  Most members of our staff agree that it is not the government’s job to regulate what citizens ingest, nor is the government qualified to make moral decision for its citizens.

However, some staff members are skeptical of Prop 19.  Marijuana will still be sold illegally by individuals outside of local governments.  It is not certain that the revenue generated from taxes will be substantial or worth what could be interpreted as a state endorsement of recreational marijuana use.