In California, Legalization Debate Heats Up Ahead of Vote
60% of American voters want legalization but the movement still receives push-back.
Published on June 2, 2016

The legalization debate is heating up ahead of the November elections. Sheriffs across the state are organizing against legalization, and the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies raised $60,000 in the first three months to stop legalization. Even prison guards are donating to keep marijuana illegal in California.

In The Daily Cal, Berkeley’s student newspaper, an op-ed was recently published called, “Legalizing marijuana in California would be harmful, not beneficial” by long time drug prevention activist Robert Morgan.

According to a recent poll, 60% of American voters want legalization. Proponents are confident that marijuana legalization will pass in California.

Californians will vote in November on the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Initiative. The measure would legalize marijuana and hemp under state law.

Morgan, who believes the legalization measure won’t pass, has been in drug prevention work for approximately twenty years. He’s been active in the anti-marijuana campaign in California for the past year-and-a-half.

His focus is “to stop the decimation of our young people and protect our natural resources” by marijuana and other drugs.

Ironically, he graduated from Colorado College, a small liberal arts college which is known for its student’s heavy marijuana use. Morgan suggests he has spent more hours researching the topic of marijuana “than most people on earth.” Founder of the Take America Back Campaign, a California non-profit (501c4), created to prevent and/or defer the onset of alcohol, tobacco and drug use, he is now dedicated to preventing full legalization in California in the medical state. The Compassionate Use Act, passed in 1996, enables the use of medical cannabis in the state of California.

“They call it the Compassionate Use Act,” Mr. Morgan told MERRY JANE. “In reality, it didn’t have anything to do with compassion. It was all about getting a foot in the door as the next step towards full legalization.”

It might be easy to think that Morgan is a lock them up and throw away the key kind of guy, but he insists this is not the case.

“I am not opposed to anything that is scientifically proven to help people,” he said. “I do believe there are some people who benefit from marijuana, but under sensible conditions where they have an actual doctor consult with a patient rather than a stamp pad and twenty bucks to buy all the pot you want.”

His motivation of getting involved with drug prevention stemmed from two stepchildren who became addicted to marijuana, at age 12 and 14, then turned to meth.

Morgan was the principal author on a ballot initiative to keep marijuana illegal and to ban all privately owned dispensaries and cultivation sites. However, that initiative did not get the support needed to appear on the ballot.

He is particularly suspicious of out of state billionaires. He believes George Soros is guilty of sedition, and accuses the Hungarian billionaire of controlling the media for the past twenty years to push drugs on the youth.

“If you can control the message you can control the people.” He believes Soros’s primary mission is to create a “new world order.”

Morgan is also suspicious of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, the second in command of the seventh largest economy in the world, California. Mr. Newsom supports legalization perhaps more than any other official in the State. Morgan believes Newsom is dedicated to furthering his political career; namely, becoming Governor. “He is basically in bed with George Soros and the Drug Policy Alliance,” Morgan opines.

David Downs, longtime marijuana reporter in the bay area, disagrees. He told MERRY JANE: “[Lt. Gov. Newsom] was ahead of the curve on the gay rights movement and made history there. And I know that he sees [marijuana legalization] as another extension of the Civil Rights movement.”

Downs also believes George Soros and Drug Policy Alliance are not quite the conspirators Morgan suggests.

“George Soros and Drug Policy Alliance have been at the forefront in trying to roll back mass incarceration and draconian drug laws in America,” Downs says. “Most Americans are favoring what DPA has been advocating for so long, which is why we can’t criminalize addiction, we can’t throw them into jail.”

Morgan is also suspicious of Sean Parker (as they are people on the pro-legalization side), creator of Napster, who dedicates millions to cancer research and marijuana legalization. Morgan cannot see what Parker, a New York resident, has to gain from marijuana legalization in California.

Parker, a co-founder of Napster and founding president of Facebook, is worth approximately $3 billion. He’s known as a big partier and big spender, but also founded Brigade, an app designed to encourage civic engagement. Justin Timberlake played Parker in the movie, “The Social Network.” In 2016, he became managing partner at Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund.

“I’ve always been amazed at why billionaires are so hellbent on destroying the brains of our youth,” Morgan laments.

Morgan disagrees with the contention that the War on Drugs takes a toll on primarily minorities. “The idea that more people are in jail because of simple possession of marijuana or any other drugs is false,” he contends. “In federal prisons, one-third of one percent are there for possession. Generally, they had 115 pounds in possession so it's drug dealing.”

When it comes to African and American and Latino communities, he believes there is “more of a socio-economic problem. They’re not being picked on because they’re black or hispanic. Normally what happens is they get stopped for another violation and then test positive for drugs.”

He notes Sacramento’s increasing crime statistics. He cites the dozen of licensed dispensaries in the city and the thousands of pot farms in California as part of the problem.

“We have 50,000 mostly illegal cultivation sites in California already. And, if you have marijuana and money in the same location you become a magnet for crime,” Morgan argues. “Ordinary citizens in populated areas are reporting an influx of people who are less desirable than you’d like living next door. They’re growing pot which stinks so bad they can’t open their bedroom window. They complain about it and get threatened, and, in some cases, get their windows shot out.”

It’s not that Morgan believes marijuana should not be available. He does believe, however, one should receive it like any other prescription medicine. “A doctor’s recommendation lets you get all the pot you want. We’ve created a whole new network of drug dealers selling to younger kids, and dealing drugs is the same as dealing weapons of mass destruction.”

Morgan disagrees with allowing individuals to grow six plants in their home, as the California ballot initiative allows.  

“That is insanity, there is no way to control that,” Morgan contends. “And even six plants is vastly in excess of what one person could consume for personal use. If you have children in the house, you’ve just opened Pandora’s box. It’s like not having a lock on your liquor cabinet. Kids will use it, and get their friends involved in it.”

Morgan argues many marijuana users don’t understand the impact on their own brains.

He said: “It’s going to alter their lifestyle. The research has shown, if you’re a heavy user early in life, before the brain fully matures, by mid life—let’s say in your forties—you’re going downhill financially, you have relationship problems, and, again, as I stated, other new research demonstrates that 40 percent of them don’t even make it to sixty years old. It also doubles the risk of traffic accidents because people that are stoned tend to fixate on an object.”

Marijuana’s increasing potency also worries Morgan. “This is a whole different animal today,” he says. “And too often parents are smoking pot with their kids—as young as eight years old. You might as well just take them in the backyard and shoot them.” Putting Morgan’s claims into question, a recent study concluded that legal cannabis was not “dumbing down” the nation’s youth.

Many of Morgan’s claims can be corroborated by preliminary scientific research. For instance, we interviewed a Harvard professor on the topic of marijuana’s effects on the brain. Others, to be certain, are debatable.

According to the ACLU, millions of people per year are likely arrested for “simply having marijuana.” And, the law on the books makes it pretty clear the punishment one faces for simple possession. To be sure, Morgan’s suspicion of billionaires is something he shares with a considerable swathe of the U.S. population, including many who likely support legalization. He also believes the environmental aspects are extremely serious.

“Marijuana plants consumes six gallons of water per plant per day,” Morgan points out. “In order to feed the plants, [growers] divert water from streams in the middle of the biggest drought in California history. In some cases they dried up streams altogether which killed everything down stream and had a major negative impact on commercial agriculture, and then there are fertilizer and pesticides that seep into the water table. They’re also using rodent poisons, intended to kill rodents, which are are killing bear, deer, and the Pacific Fisher, which is an endangered species.”

David Downs, who has been covering marijuana in the state weekly since 2009, calls Morgan a “moral entrepreneur.”

That is, “Someone who is making a business out of a particular moral worldview,” Downs told MERRY JANE. “And he is pretty good at it. These Take Back America campaign groups are nesting with each other and receiving federal, local and state funds to put out the message we need to keep prohibition in America.” Downs says it makes sense why marijuana is such a contentious issue.

“Cannabis in California is cresting at a time of historic income equality and death of the American Dream,” Downs said.  “[Morgan uses] six or seven decade old—even centuries old—appeals to the public safety of children, and sprinkles in post-modern populist calls against Big Tobacco. The great thing about living in 2016 is anyone can Google something and find the truth. The Governor of Colorado said legalization is working. The federal government’s own Institute on National Drug Abuse found teens are experiencing lower rates of cannabis use as legalization of medical marijuana spreads.”

Downs added: “Roger Morgan, and those who he represents, should not be under-estimated. They represent the ballast of the culture, an inertia towards prohibition that still remains, and they could very easily defeat the California initiative with one-tenth of the funds that legalization proponents raise.”

Justin O'Connell
Justin is a California-based writer who covers music, cannabis, craft beer, Baja California, science and technology. His writing has appeared in VICE and the San Diego Reader.
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