Tag Archive for 'vote'

California Voters to Decide Question of Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana laws are complicated – several states have legalized medical marijuana, while the federal government continues its blanket prohibition on the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana. The federal government is still perfectly free to arrest and prosecute people for growing and selling medical marijuana, even if it’s completely legal under the laws of the states they live in. The Obama Administration has directed the Department of Justice to cease prosecutions of people who grow medical marijuana in compliance with state law, leading to an uneasy and paper-thin truce between growers and users of medical marijuana, and the federal government.

If the backers of an initiative headed to the November ballot in California get their way, the legal status of medical marijuana might get a little bit more complicated, at least when examining the relationship between federal and state marijuana laws. California’s Secretary of State is expected to certify for placement on the November ballot an initiative which would essentially legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. The blogs have gone crazy over this, and with good reason. This is kind of a big deal.

Nowhere in the U.S. is the recreational use of marijuana legal. If this initiative passes, it will be legal for anyone who is 21 years old or older to buy and use marijuana. The sale of marijuana will be tightly regulated, and vendors will likely have to obtain licenses to sell it.

Perhaps more importantly (and the reason I think this initiative may actually have more than a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing), every legal sale of marijuana in California will be taxed. Marijuana, whether we like it or not, is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s obvious that there’s a demand for the product, and people are meeting that demand. We’re simply seeing market forces at work. As a result, massive amounts of revenue are being generated from the sale of marijuana, all of which is going untaxed.

Given the current state of the California budget, the temptation to tap into a potentially-huge source of tax revenue must be quite strong, indeed. However, if this initiative passes, the government will have to be careful to not set the taxes on marijuana so high that legal marijuana is more expensive than illegal marijuana.

Anyone who’s been on a college campus or to a Phish concert can tell you that marijuana is readily available to just about anyone who wants to seek it out. From that fact, it follows that the “infrastructure” for the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana is already firmly in place. If legalized marijuana (whose base market price will likely be significantly less than illegal marijuana, given the lower risk involved in selling it) is taxed to the point that it’s cheaper to get it illegally, people will probably continue to do so, just as they do today.

But even with a relatively low tax rate on marijuana, it should be a huge relief for a cash-strapped budget.

Of course, California legalizing marijuana won’t do anything about the fact that it’s still illegal under federal law, at least not directly. If this initiative passes and becomes law, we’ll likely still see arrests of growers and sellers in California by federal authorities.

However, if the legalization of marijuana doesn’t create any social problems beyond the ones that abuse of the drug already causes, while at the same time raising massive amounts of tax revenue for the state, and reducing the strain on the state’s prison system by reducing the number of drug offenders sent to prison, we’ll likely see other states follow suit, which might eventually cause the federal government to realize that it’s on the wrong side of history, and end its prohibition on marijuana. Of course, if this ever happens, it will probably be decades from now.

Another potential benefit of this law is a long-term reduction in California’s prison population. California is currently in the process of releasing 6,500 inmates from its prisons, due to budget constrains, and overcrowding so severe that it puts the safety of corrections workers and prisoners in danger.

Perhaps if fewer non-violent drug offenders were in prison in the first place, California would not have had this problem. LegalMatch case data from the last few months indicate that nearly a third of the alleged drug crimes in California involve marijuana. Considering the number of illegal drugs in existence, for a single one to account for almost a third of arrests is quite significant.

While I don’t pretend to know what effects legalization of marijuana will have on the state of California, I personally think that it’s at least worth a try, especially given its potential to raise tax revenue, reduce strain on the prison system, and promote the idea that adults can make their own decisions.

California Voters to Decide Question of Marijuana Legalization

Marijuana laws are complicated – several states have legalized medical marijuana, while the federal government continues its blanket prohibition on the cultivation, sale, and possession of marijuana. The federal government is still perfectly free to arrest and prosecute people for growing and selling medical marijuana, even if it’s completely legal under the laws of the states they live in. The Obama Administration has directed the Department of Justice to cease prosecutions of people who grow medical marijuana in compliance with state law, leading to an uneasy and paper-thin truce between growers and users of medical marijuana, and the federal government.

If the backers of an initiative headed to the November ballot in California get their way, the legal status of medical marijuana might get a little bit more complicated, at least when examining the relationship between federal and state marijuana laws. California’s Secretary of State is expected to certify for placement on the November ballot an initiative which would essentially legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California. The blogs have gone crazy over this, and with good reason. This is kind of a big deal.

Nowhere in the U.S. is the recreational use of marijuana legal. If this initiative passes, it will be legal for anyone who is 21 years old or older to buy and use marijuana. The sale of marijuana will be tightly regulated, and vendors will likely have to obtain licenses to sell it.

Perhaps more importantly (and the reason I think this initiative may actually have more than a snowball’s chance in Hell of passing), every legal sale of marijuana in California will be taxed. Marijuana, whether we like it or not, is a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s obvious that there’s a demand for the product, and people are meeting that demand. We’re simply seeing market forces at work. As a result, massive amounts of revenue are being generated from the sale of marijuana, all of which is going untaxed.

Given the current state of the California budget, the temptation to tap into a potentially-huge source of tax revenue must be quite strong, indeed. However, if this initiative passes, the government will have to be careful to not set the taxes on marijuana so high that legal marijuana is more expensive than illegal marijuana.

Anyone who’s been on a college campus or to a Phish concert can tell you that marijuana is readily available to just about anyone who wants to seek it out. From that fact, it follows that the “infrastructure” for the illegal cultivation and sale of marijuana is already firmly in place. If legalized marijuana (whose base market price will likely be significantly less than illegal marijuana, given the lower risk involved in selling it) is taxed to the point that it’s cheaper to get it illegally, people will probably continue to do so, just as they do today.

But even with a relatively low tax rate on marijuana, it should be a huge relief for a cash-strapped budget.

Of course, California legalizing marijuana won’t do anything about the fact that it’s still illegal under federal law, at least not directly. If this initiative passes and becomes law, we’ll likely still see arrests of growers and sellers in California by federal authorities.

However, if the legalization of marijuana doesn’t create any social problems beyond the ones that abuse of the drug already causes, while at the same time raising massive amounts of tax revenue for the state, and reducing the strain on the state’s prison system by reducing the number of drug offenders sent to prison, we’ll likely see other states follow suit, which might eventually cause the federal government to realize that it’s on the wrong side of history, and end its prohibition on marijuana. Of course, if this ever happens, it will probably be decades from now.

Another potential benefit of this law is a long-term reduction in California’s prison population. California is currently in the process of releasing 6,500 inmates from its prisons, due to budget constrains, and overcrowding so severe that it puts the safety of corrections workers and prisoners in danger.

Perhaps if fewer non-violent drug offenders were in prison in the first place, California would not have had this problem. LegalMatch case data from the last few months indicate that nearly a third of the alleged drug crimes in California involve marijuana. Considering the number of illegal drugs in existence, for a single one to account for almost a third of arrests is quite significant.

While I don’t pretend to know what effects legalization of marijuana will have on the state of California, I personally think that it’s at least worth a try, especially given its potential to raise tax revenue, reduce strain on the prison system, and promote the idea that adults can make their own decisions.

Crooks in Congress: What’s New?

Recently, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens was convicted on seven counts of fraud – and yet the law does not require him to resign from his seat and allowed him to still run for Congress!  It’s of little comfort to me to know that the Senate could decide to censure Stevens (as it’s done to nine other senators in the past) because unfortunately this action would not remove him from office.  It’s a little more encouraging to know that if Stevens were elected (he barely lost), the Senate could expel him by a two-thirds vote; however, it’s not clear whether they would actually vote him out of office . . .

Although four senators before Stevens have been convicted of crimes, two resigned, one died, and one’s term expired before the Senate had a chance to vote on his expulsion.  According to Senate historian, Don Ritchie:  “The Senate is a very collegial body and really doesn’t like to act in that sense.”  As such, they would probably wait for any appeals to be decided before taking action.  So, when will Stevens be considered “convicted”?  A majority of scholars believe a jury’s verdict seals the deal; however, most precedent says a judge’s formal entry of judgment and sentence is definitive. 

At least Stevens couldn’t cast a vote for himself – or anyone – for now since Alaska law denies felons convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude the right to vote until they’re “released from all disability arising under a conviction and sentence, including probation and parole.” 

It baffles me that questions have been raised as to whether Stevens’ crimes involve moral turpitude.  According to the Alaska statute, felonies involving moral turpitude include crimes that are “immoral or wrong in themselves such as murder  . . . extortion, coercion . . . theft, forgery . . . scheme to defraud, falsifying business records . . . bribery, receiving a bribe, perjury, perjury by inconsistent statements . . . and criminal mischief.”  Given that bribery is listed as a crime qualifying under the statute, it seems clear to me that Stevens was engaging in more than enough “moral turpitude” to be covered by the law.

The Biggest News You Haven’t Heard About All Day

Instead of voting in the next election, why not just put your USB into a voting machine and upload your preferred results? If you live in a state that uses Sequoia Voting System technology, this is not a joke. This can actually happen.

In 2004, the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic filed a lawsuit against the State seeking de-certification of 10,000 Sequoia AVC machines in New Jersey. It has taken 4 years of discovery and pre-trial litigation for a report to finally be released detailing numerous security flaws in Sequoia’s machines. Unfortunately, the case will not be resolved until sometime after the presidential election.

Computer Science experts analyzing New Jersey’s Sequoia DRE (direct recording electronic) voting machines discovered that voters and election officials alike had the ability to alter votes without leaving behind any evidence of tampering. Votes could be manipulated by physically opening the machines or bypassing unsophisticated security measures on the computers used to count and calibrate them. You can read their report (In a disturbing turn, experts on Sequoia voting machines were recently denied when they asked for permission to view votes being read from the machines this election.)

The voting machines were so easily tampered with that the Judge wanted guards posted at centers where machines were kept before the election, a request denied by the state. Amazingly, New Jersey’s Sequoia voting machines do not even leave a paper trail, which may eliminate several of these security flaws. New Jersey is one of a handful of states using touch screen voting machines that do not print hard copies of every voter’s choices, meaning there is nothing to examine if something goes awry.

How easily can something go awry? According to a report by Computer Science Professors at the University of California Santa Barbara, all it takes is a paperclip or a USB drive. In fact, this is not the first time Sequoia or other DRE machines have been criticized. In 2007, California ordered a full-scale review of every electronic voting system used in the state, which led to sweeping security measures and even decertification of some machines, including those made by Sequoia. Ohio conducted a similar review of its electronic voting systems. The report found all the voting machines currently in use suspect and also recommended their de-certification.

Tampering with votes on DRE machines generally requires surreptitious access to the machines, or one unscrupulous election official. You might be thinking: what else is new? However, these machines were heralded as the new weapon in the fight against election fraud. Billions of dollars was spent on buying the machines, setting them up, and training election officials in their use.

What are we left with after this substantial investment? In some states, an unreliable voting system where there is no guarantee that your vote will be accurately counted. Although no system is perfect, the least we can do is try and move forward, not backward.