Opinion: Proposition 19: Russian reefer madness

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Besides George Soros, the marijuana legalization measure on California’s Nov. 2 ballot has won itself few friends in high places. The Obama administration’s position is nay, and just about every Democrat and Republican running for statewide office -- including both U.S. Senate candidates -- say the ballot measure deserves defeat. Despite the occasional histrionic over drug legalization (the No on 19 campaign website currently has an image of a nearly totaled car on its splash page), the opposition, including The Times’ editorial page, has made its case mainly by considering the legal ramifications: What happens if federal and state law are in complete opposition to each other? Is the initiative too lax about regulating and taxing marijuana, as it would permit cities and counties to set their own rules?

In short, the debate over Proposition 19 has been uncharacteristically ... adult. Opponents, instead of raising irrational fears over the drug, wonkishly say the law is poorly written. This kind of legal beard-scratching isn’t what you’d expect in a debate over decriminalizing the country’s most popular illegal drug in the country’s most powerful and populous state.


Comes now Russian drug czar Viktor Ivanov, who flew in and injected a bit of old-fashioned reefer madness into the debate. As only someone from the land of double-speak can put it, Ivanov warned of ‘psychiatric deviations’ should California pass Proposition 19. Foreign Policy reports:

Viktor Ivanov, a former KGB officer and prominent member of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s inner circle, even took the unusual step of going to Los Angeles earlier this week to ‘conduct a campaign against legalizing marijuana in California,’ as he said in the interview. He also came to Washington this week to meet with U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske and U.S. Afghan envoy Richard Holbrooke to discuss anti-poppy measures in Afghanistan and call for an intensified program of aerial eradication.

He warns California, sternly:

‘I’m afraid that the consequences of [legalization] will be catastrophic. Even the Netherlands, where they sell marijuana legally in coffee shops, they are now reversing on this. Because there, and everywhere, drug addiction is becoming stronger and the people who are addicted develop psychiatric deviations. They say, ‘What does God do when he wants to punish a person? He deprives him of his mind.’ ‘

The aptly titled Russian czar does speak with some authority, as his country does have a drug problem of its own. But I’m not sure that support from Ivanov -- whose own government has an elastic definition of personal freedom -- is an endorsement the anti-19 forces will embrace.

-- Paul Thornton