Alcohol industry ponies up against Prop. 19

Marijuana legalization advocates are complaining that part of the alcohol industry has invested $10,000 in defeating Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure on California’s ballot this November.

California Beer and Beverage Distributors made a $10,000 contribution Sept. 7 to Public Safety First, the main coalition opposing Prop. 19.

“Unless the beer distributors in California have suddenly developed a philosophical opposition to the use of intoxicating substances, the motivation behind this contribution is clear,” Marijuana Policy Project government relations director Steve Fox said in a news release today. “Plain and simple, the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition. They know that marijuana is less addictive, less toxic and less likely to be associated with violent behavior than alcohol. So they don’t want adults to have the option of using marijuana legally instead of alcohol. Their mission is to drive people to drink.”

Fox notes the California Police Chiefs Association has given at least $30,000 to oppose Prop. 19, while the California Narcotics Officers’ Association has given at least $20,500.

“Members of law enforcement have argued against Proposition 19 by asserting, ‘We have enough problems with alcohol, we don’t need to add another intoxicating substance to the mix,’ implying that marijuana is just as bad as alcohol,” he said. “But the truth is that a legal marijuana market would not add another dangerous intoxicant to the mix; rather it would provide adults with a less harmful legal alternative to alcohol.”

California Beer and Beverage Distributors public affairs director Rhonda Stevenson wasn’t in her office today; her receptionist said only she could take media calls. Stevenson didn’t return an e-mail or a voice mail.

But Public Safety First spokesman Roger Salazar said it’s a public-safety issue, pure and simple.

“Last time I checked, alcohol is regulated by the ABC, whereas Prop 19 leaves it up to an unmanageable patchwork of 536 different jurisdictional entities to try and ‘regulate’ and ‘control’ marijuana,” he said. “The state has set standards on what constitutes DUI of alcohol but this measure omits any definition of what constitutes DUI of marijuana. California leaders and law enforcement from throughout California are opposing this poorly written initiative because it sets no regulations, no state oversight and does not collect one dime in tax revenue.”

Salazar also noted the beer and beverage industry owns and operates large truck fleets in California to bring their products to market. “I would think they would no more support allowing their drivers to drink beer before getting behind the wheel of their trucks or vans, than they would want them smoking marijuana.”

In other Prop. 19 news, co-proponent Richard Lee – who had put $1.41 million into this effort, mostly to gather the petition signatures to get it on the ballot – had told me in June that he was finished spending, but that no longer seems to be the case.

Lee has put an additional $40,166 into the campaign in the past month, accounting for almost 59 percent of the $68,615.97 in big-ticket donations that the campaign has raised since the start of August.

In other words, that online, grassroots, small-denomination micro-fundraising he was talking about over the summer – “We hope to raise $10 million, $10 each from a million people” – better have materialized (it wouldn’t have shown up in the database yet), or else not many people are funding the campaign except him.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • RR, Uninvited Columnist

    Let the People decide which drugs they wish to consume? Last time I checked, the California voters were deemed unfit to decide who should legally wed. Why bother with all this outdated pseudo-populism? As for the intrepid Mr Fox, what about spirited teens who now indulge in both grass and booze to excess? Will mom and dad lock up their legal marijuana in a safe?

  • John W

    $10 thousand? Chump change. Makes me suspect the beer people are doing this to make the law enforcement folks happy rather than to make an impact on the election. The special interest that really hates Prop. 19 is the illegal grower community concerned about protecting profits under the status quo. CC Times editorial got it right. The prohibition approach to drugs is counterproductive and costing us gazillions, but it’s a federal issue and should be dealt with at that level, not through a state referendum.

  • John Chase

    John W is right. The people who really hate Prop19 are the ones who’d lose revenue if it passes. IMO, that would be the guys who sell into the gray market of so-called “medical” pot.

    If Californians want a coherent policy for pot they will vote for Prop19