California's Marijuana Proposition
California could be the first state in the nation to legalize marijuana if Proposition 19 passes this November. The initiative would make recreational use of marijuana legal and allow cities and counties to tax and regulate the sale of the drug. We'll discuss details of the initiative and the KPBS documentary about Prop. 19 called "The Marijuana State," set to broadcast tonight at 9 p.m. on KPBS Television.
Joanne Faryon is a KPBS reporter, is producer and host of the KPBS documentary "The Marijuana State"
KPBS Reporter Kyla Calvert
KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson
This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. On this November's ballot, Californians are being asked if they want to legalize the possession of marijuana for personal use, and the poems tell us the majority of voters may say yes. If Proposition 19 is approved, it will be a radical departure from 100 years of legislation America and opportunities for counties across the state. Tonight, KPBS television presents a new Envision documentary called the Marijuana State, it looks into a future where marijuana becomes one of California's most important resources. With me is Joanne Faryon, she produced and hosts the documentary the Marijuana State. And later in the program we will be joined by other KPBS reporters. To start us off, Joanne, remind us. What is Project Envision.
JOANNE FARYON: Project Envision is where we take a topic and we explore it over a period of several weeks, a group of us in the bell will say, what are the potential issues or stories that can come out of this issue, and then we report as we find things out on the radio, on the website, and it turns into this documentary.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Why did you focus on Prop 19?
JOANNE FARYON: We felt if Prop 19 passes, it changes everything in California. Not only do we have this industry, but also it changes a hundred years, really, of thinking, of campaigning that marijuana is a bad drug. And for voters to say, no, we now are going to accept this interest our society, that's a really big deal, and this would be the first state in the nation, and one of the first jurisdictions in the world to say that marijuana is legal.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You also have a lot of information on our website. Tell us a little bit about that and how people can see that.
JOANNE FARYON: Yes, absolutely . First of all our website is KPBS.org/marijuana. One of the most recent stories that we did, we actually surveyed our elected representatives in this county. I believe we surveyed a hundred and 40 officials, a couple -- and we asked them, where do you stand on proposition 19, and Proposition 19, as you said in your intro, it would legalize marijuana, it would be regulated like alcohol, it could be taxed like alcohol, it was a simple yes or no, we, we received 45 yeses, 46 responses said no, I don't support prop 19. Five were sort of, you upon, trying to may both side, where I neither support nor oppose, and everyone else remained silent, they wouldn't tell us where they stood on prom 19. And we said people who remain silent, first of all, if you support Prop 19, you probably don't want to say you support Prop 19 if you're a politician. Particularly in this county which tens to be more conservative. The District Attorney, but in terms of our San Diego City counsel, only sherry Leitner had a response and, I believe hers was neither of the but we didn't hear from the mayor of San Diego.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that's just a snippet of what you can find identity on the website that goes along with this documentary. What are the main proponents of Prop 19 in.
JOANNE FARYON: It's two things, it is first is, recreational use of marijuana, less than an ounce, and it would be legal. The in California it's now decriminalized, if you possess a helped dollar fine just like a parking ticket, you won't through the court systems. And that says, cities and counties will have the right under this legislation to commercialize sale was marijuana. It can become an industry. So just like alcohol, just like tobacco, whether it's a coffee shop or whether it's a bar where they can actually sale marijuana, and we could collect the taxes or they could do like Oakland, which is to issue licenses to grow marijuana on a large scale, have pot fact real estates, and those would generate a lot of jobs and a lot of tax revenue. So that second part of actually saying this is an industry that's below ground and we're gonna move it above ground, that's the controversial part of this. D.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What are the main arguments for and against Prop 19.
JOANNE FARYON: The people who support Prop 19 request say, look, check check, and the medical marijuana industry, I think people refer to it as somewhat of a joke. When we went up to Oakland to do this story, we went it a medical dispensary, from insomnia to anxiety, and a number of ailments. So people are saying ask, this industry already exist, why are we letting criminals control it? For example, Mexican drug cartels. The other side, wait a minute, there are people who want to introduce a moment argument. There are some arguments that suggest it will -- They say that this proposition will create a patch work of laws throughout the state, you'll go to one county, like San Diego, that says, no way, we're not gonna legalize it here. So ask will it be confusing, and how will you regulate it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And wee 81a welcome more reporters into our studios issue but first we have to take a short break. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS, my guest is Joanne Faryon, she recently produced and hosted the KPBS documentary, the marijuana state, which will premiere tonight on KPBS television at nine. It is about what the arguments for and against, and what may help if voters do approve Proposition 19 on November's ballot, that would legalize the position of marijuana for personal use, and it would allow the counties to allow the sale of marijuana. Joanne, this is a really really big topic, how did you narrow down the focus of the documentary.
JOANNE FARYON: We decided to talk about the money because in the end, like everything, it comes down to money. So we looked at the industry. The first thing we ought to admit, this is an industry that exists in the state. If people came to California searching for gold and we all know that are is it, and it was sort of responsible for our modern development, could the marijuana industry suddenly give us a kick start to our economic slump? But I'll tell you now, no matter where you look, you'll find a different number, that was a research paper published in 2006, estimated at $14 billion, and that's an under ground industry, so they're only measuring part of the size. There have been reports that say we could generate as much as a billion dollars or more a year. Soap I think when voters decide how they are going to vote on this, they have to look at the economic impact, and the idea that they're going to prosecute this new industry would have ground, and is it something they want to do. At the same time, realizing that it's an underground industry, obviously, the criminal element comes attached to that as well. So we really focused on money, can I think somebody said it well, marijuana equals money.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: One of the people you interviewed calls Oakland the silicon valley of marijuana. Why is Oakland a good case study for Prop 19.
JOANNE FARYON: Oakland really is the epicenter of the marijuana debate, largely because of a man named Richard Lee. He coauthored Proposition 19. He's been a cannabis activist. Of course, oaksterdam, the Amsterdam of the United States, and he started it as a bit of a joke. To the tune of 1.5 billion dollars a year in tuition. Since then, he's opened up a number of shops in downtown Oakland. So in Oakland, the City Council there, they unanimously support Proposition 19, they see Proposition 19 as really bringing in new jobs. Add to that equation a man named Jeff Wilcox. He founded a -- with a proposition. He wants to actually grow marijuana in door, grow enough marijuana to produce -- we spent some time with him, and actually I brought some tape along with him. And here's how he describes what he thinks is a good idea of.
NEW SPEAKER: If cannabis was in our community, could we legally grow it on a large scale? Tax it, regulate it, and bring in union jobs?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And indeed, that's exactly what he intends to do. You show this enormous factory, you and Jeff are sitting in it, and you're discussing the idea that this place would be filled with marijuana plants growing. And become part of a legal industry.
JOANNE FARYON: Yes, and it's not a pipe dream. Approved the idea policy that would allow four companies to grow marijuana in doors for medical marijuana use. So this is even before Prop 19. The city of Oakland is going to have fur, large scale pot factories. I mean, there's likely to be amount more than four. I have to tell you though, for as many people who are kind of, you know, rubbing their hands together wow, this is a great business opportunity, there are some people, shocking it, I'm so surprised to find out who, people who are heard in this business, who are already selling marijuana, in this gray area where they're selling it to people with medical marijuana cards they're not necessarily licensed to do so. In Oakland they call that a gray market. But some of those people dent necessarily want Prop 19 to pas. Because what would that mean to their it business? The Rand corporation did a study that said if marijuana is legal, the price could come down by as much as 80 percent. That's a huge profit margin in all of this. I want to introduce you to another character, his name is Dwayne waters. Here's what he says to say.
NEW SPEAKER: I am a consultant, I'm a vendor in what we call the canabusiness. There's a lot of old money that doesn't want the new money to come in.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And of course did the new money will be legal.
JOANNE FARYON: Absolutely.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this whole idea of saying that the right type of people would be attracted to it if it would legal, and the wrong people are there attracted to it now, what does this actually mean.
JOANNE FARYON: And we have to say, I learned something when I went to Oakland speaking request these peek, and jokingly, I was talking to my photographer who said where suddenly if it's legal, people who make money, it's gonna change, right now, you have people in drug cartels, drug organizations, drug dealers who make money, suddenly it's above ground, cities and counties stand to gain potentially if they tax this. Jeff Wilcox says at the end of the documentary, says, yeah, you'll attract people like me. I think the critic might say, how is he would request different right now from the drug dealer? They both stand to gape from selling marijuana, I think ultimately it's up to the voter to decide. Are they comfortable with this industry being above ground or do they feel more comfortable with it being something that we continue to try to really suppress?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We will continue to talk about the new KPBS envisioned document every, the marijuana state. We have to take a short break. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. We continue our discussion about the new KPBS documentary tonight, the marijuana state. Will Californians are being asked this November if they want to let legalize the possession of marijuana for personal use. And that's the subject of the documentary, I'd like to welcome back reporter Joanne Faryon, she produced and host fist the document every. And welcome expense reporter Kyla Calvert. Good morning Kyla.
KYLA CALVERT: Good morning.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now you focused on the argument in support of Prop 19 that it will free up law enforcement and our prisons to deal with more serious crimes.
KYLA CALVERT: When I started -- the way that I started was to look at sort of the state prison figures over the last 10 years to see how many people who are in jail for marijuana related offenses are taking up prison beds and essentially found that they are a very, very small portion of the state prison population, about .8 percent, and have been consistently over the last ten years. I also spoke with local law enforcement officials and litigators, just about sort of how the kinds of small-time marijuana offenses that Prop 19 directly affects fit into their work load.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. As you say, you looked into whether legalizing marijuana would decrease the state law enforcement costs. Why do people think that's the case? Well, the basic argument is laid out by some videos on the yes on 19.com website, and one of those -- that website is a former California superior court judge, James gray, and we have a clip of him laying out that basic argument.
NEW SPEAKER: Based upon my 25 years on the bench -- basically, the softer we get with regard to the prosecution of everything else of so we are actually having robbers rapers and murderers reduced sentences, or prosecuted less severely because we're spending all of these criminal justice resources on the prosecution of nonviolent drug offenders.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's an interesting argument.
KYLA CALVERT: Right and that same website sort of points to the equal number of marijuana arrests in California and unsolved violate crimes in California, in 2008, this is a stat that comes from the FBI, and it's about a thousand of each in 2008, and but when you look at sort of who is in prison, the number of people who are there for marijuana related offenses is relatively small and actually over the last ten years has been decreasing, while the number of people who are in state prison for violent crimes has actually increased dramatically by about 30 percent.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In the documentary tonight you have some rather impress of graphs that show us for marijuana possession in state prisons is really sort of this tiny little portion of the over all prison population.
JOANNE FARYON: Right and actually those graphs come courtesy of Kyla and David Strad our graphic artist. She looked at state numbers, how many people are in prison for just marijuana charges. And Kyla also got the stats for the three largest counties which really illustrate the same trend again a very small portion of people in county jail, relative to all other charges and you can see that in the document ear, very nicely illustrated. I think part of what Envision is trying to do is get through the layers, are there myths out there? Is it really true in and I think we report a lot of stuff, and we really want to find out, is it true, and I think data is one of the best ways to find out if something is true. This is something people can look at now.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed, and part of that, I just want to be clear is that even though it's a small portion of the overall prison population, there's still hundreds of people in our state prisons for marijuana possession.
JOANNE FARYON: Absolutely. And it costs -- it's nearly 50 thousand dollars a year to house a state inmate. And that adds up. 20 years ago this wasn't necessarily the case. Richard Lee who wrote the proposition, the reason he went on this crusade to legalize marijuana and not -- prosecuting serious crimes, and that may have been the case 20 years ago when Richard Wee has admitted that the most compelling reason to legalize marijuana is to curb the violence associated with Mexican drug organizations.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Kyla, what do law enforcement officials here in San Diego say about Prop 19?
KYLA CALVERT: I think Joanne just hit it right on the head, sheriff bill gore said 20 years ago maybe there was more of a focus on arresting people who were small-time users or possessors of marijuana, but now, the bulk of their resources are going toward large scale organizations can that are distributing multiple kinds of drugs, and actually gore was saying that he believes that Proposition 19 is a little bit vague and or -- quite vague actually is what he thinks and that that has potential costs and we have eye clip of him talking about that.
NEW SPEAKER: It's not gonna free up law enforcement resources, in fact if I it's probably gonna increase the need for law enforcement services. Regulate the medical marijuana -- it's a very poorly written piece of legislation.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And indeed, you spoke with another gentleman, Jonathan cullkins who published a paper for Rand corporation. Tell us about that.
KYLA CALVERT: He was saying that when some of the studies done by prolegalization groups fall into some mathematical pitfalls, basically are even though those agencies are providing many more services than just arresting people. We have a cut of him talking about marijuana arrests specifically.
NEW SPEAKER: Another problem is that most people who are arrested for marijuana in California are not booked. Which means they're not brought back to the police station. And it's that taking people back to police station that actually takes a lot of time. So if the arrive is just incidental to something else like a traffic stop, then it doesn't
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Pros and cons of whether or not making marijuana possession legal in California may impact how many people are in state prisons, how much time law enforcement is gonna spend on marijuana arrests. We are gonna continue talking about our new documentary, the marijuana state, when we return from this short break. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
We are continuing to talk about the new KPBS documentary, the marijuana state, all about the supporters and opponents of Proposition 19, that's on the ballot next month, and if voters approve it, it would make the possession of marijuana use illegal, and allow counties throughout the state to -- another of the arms in favor of legalizing marijuana, is that it will help stop violence among drug cartels in Mexico, Amy ISACKSON.
AMY ISACKSON: Good morning, Maureen.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, I'd like you to start by telling us how you open your segment of the marijuana state documentary. You describe the impact of drug trafficking in a south bay neighborhood in San Diego.
AMY ISACKSON: We were looking for a way to make people in San Diego realize why they need to care about drug violence in Mexico. We went back to Chula Vista, and we found one of the neighbors a 12 year old boy who was nine at the time, and he described to us looking out his windows and watching SUVs police SUVs down the street, SWAT team, they hauled out a number of men who were part of a group, it turned out who were an off shoot, moved across to San Diego and were exacting revenge on the Araya Felix cartel, kidnapped this man, dissolved two bodies in acid, dumped bodies across San Diego County.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do supporters say about the impact of Prop 19, Joanne on the Mexican drug cartels?
JOANNE FARYON: As I was saying, Richard Lee who coauthored this proposition, he believes the most compelling reason to support prop 19 is because it will help to stop Mexican drug cartel violence, a lot of people compare it to the days of prohibition. There was a lot of crime associated with it. And then we spend a lot of time in terms of possession of marijuana, and people in prison and so on. But I think the other element in terms of criminal prosecution. And really the organized courtroom that is associated with marijuana. And obviously it's organized because there's so much money to know made. And I think that's the other side of that argument in terms of what will we say, what will we gain if we actually take away the criminal element, and this huge profit margin from this kind of trade.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, coincidentally, you reported this morning, Amy on a very large pot bust that happened here in San Diego.
AMY ISACKSON: In Tijuana.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sorry about that. But the Rand corporation report has some different ideas about the effect that the legalization of marijuana might have in California on drug cartels.
AMY ISACKSON: Come from the sale of marijuana in the United States , and that's one of the most important findings of this Rand report is they say that's just not true. And they say that the following, in the 60 percent, is more like 15 to 20 percent of Mexican cartels' from revenues and that just 2 to 4 percent come in from nose Mexican pot sales in California. 2 to 4 percent of their revenues, the rapid study said that the only real way that California's legalization of marijuana could cut into cartels' profit system if marijuana grown in California was then smuggled around the rest of the United States , it was sold at a lower price and that that displaces the cartels and took away all of their market. Then they say, that cartels could lose about 15 to 23 percent of their over all revenues -- issue in the short term, violence will go up because they're gonna be fighting even more to cross marijuana to the can United States , as well as other drugs and other activities to replace them.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: On the relatively mild impact.
JOANNE FARYON: Said that he directs the transborder institute at the university of San Diego, and he said that cartels just aren't gonna clone up their resumes and here we have a listen. My new even if all drugs were legal in the United States , would not simple he throw up their hands and go get a job at MacDonald's, the odds are, they would have to find some other criminal activity.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That was David shirk who directs the transporter institute at the university of San Diego. And we heard from other voices who basically said that the cartels have diversified in recent years and if marijuana is off the table, they won't be hurt terribly much by that.
JOANNE FARYON: They have many other drugs that they smuggle, there's cocaine, there's heroin, that's methamphetamine. And Joe Garcia, 80 percent of the methamphetamine seized in the United States comes from Mexican cartels and that that's a source of revenue from them.
NEW SPEAKER: They diversified their portfolio a little bit there in the SENSE of, you know, they were losing some money on the marijuana 'cause it's harder to get across.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both and quickly, there are some who expressed the idea that this may be a first step in trying to take some power and some of the power away from the mechanical drug cartels,; isn't that right.
JOANNE FARYON: A lot of people do say that this is a first step and say that maybe legalization is a tool we have in our tool box to look at this drug problem in I new way. And officials in Mexico as well is that, you know -- or analysts in Mexico, partner, that we spent trillions of dollars on this drug war in the United States and that it's just not working. So maybe legalization is a new approach. Something new we could look at.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Joanne.
KYLA CALVERT: And like Amy said legalizing marijuana may not solve all of the problems with drugs but if you at least bring what's under ground above ground you have a shot at, you know, regulation. But again, is California, is that what California wants?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I tell you, a wide ranging explanation into Proposition 19, what its effects might be, pro and con, that's tonight, it's culled the marijuana constitutional right, it's a documentary presented KPBS television, and the Envision project. I'd like to thank Joanne.
JOANNE FARYON: Thanks for having me.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Also Amy Isackson.