After a deadly shootout by sheriff's deputies in a marijuana raid last week, Howard Miller, co-owner of the Junction Bar and Grill, talked about the many pot farms in the rugged hills of northeast Santa Clara County.
"The marijuana doesn't bother me," said the 69-year-old Miller, whose bar advertises itself as being as close to the Old West as you can get. "The shootouts do."
Count me in Howard Miller's corner. After a lot of thought, I've decided to vote for Proposition 19, the measure on the November ballot that would legalize and tax marijuana.
The shooting still has its mysteries. We don't know the name of the dead man — likely the low guy on the totem pole — or what led cops to this particular growth or whether it was run by a Mexican cartel.
But in the end, it makes less sense to parse the details of the shooting than to talk about its underlying causes.
For now, marijuana growing is against the law. If you patrol a rural pot farm with a gun, you're engaged in dangerous and illegal activity.
That's why we need to legalize pot, regulate its production and take the business away from the cartels. We did this once before, when Prohibition ended in 1933.
Begin with a few facts. The war on marijuana has been a colossal failure. It's wasted law enforcement time and resulted in the needless arrests of hundreds of thousands of people.
Each year around now, law enforcement trumpets new seizures, saying they break previous records. If the raids were really having an impact, you'd expect seizures to go down.
Fears of pot
All this is in pursuit of a substance that's less dangerous than booze, one that was outlawed more than 70 years ago without any clear understanding of its effects.
I know the arguments against Proposition 19: Mothers Against Drunk Driving has contended that it gives police no standards for arresting marijuana users driving under the influence.
Other adversaries, like U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein — often a disappointment to me — have argued that it would imperil billions in federal funds for schools seeking to be drug-free.
All these arguments, however, strike me as fears masquerading as facts. Proposition 19 advocates like Joe McNamara, San Jose's former chief of police, say cops would actually have more time to enforce the law against driving under the influence.
And the threat of a federal freeze relies on a reading of the Obama administration being far more forceful in pursuing marijuana than it's been so far. Right now, the feds have a few other things on their plate.
I'm not quite as hopeful as the Proposition 19 advocates about raising huge new sums in taxes. But we will save the jail and prison costs of people who don't need to be behind bars.
And we would end the need for shootouts and confrontations like the one last week. Let's not forget that when the prohibition of alcohol ended, so did most of the business of the rum-runners.
We know the status quo doesn't work. And it hasn't for a long time. We need change.
Last, a sad note: Former Mercury News reporter Pat Loomis, whom I profiled a few weeks ago on her 90th birthday, died last Tuesday in Arroyo Grande. A celebration of Pat's life will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the South County Historical Society Heritage House at 126 S. Mason St. in Arroyo Grande.
By Scott Herhold
Mercury News Columnist