California’s Legislature blazes new path in deterring dangerous activities

By Michele Hanisee

The California Legislature has come up with a brilliant way to keep our youth from using a dangerous product that kills tens of thousands of Americans every year, and leads to billions in medical costs. Make the product legal to possess and use! Wait, what?

Several months ago the California Legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed, Senate Bill 7 raising the age to be able to purchase tobacco products in California to 21. According to the bill’s author, this legislation was necessary to prevent or severely restrict youth access to these “highly addictive and deadly products that lead to a lifetime of adverse health effects.” That underage age use leads to use as an adult is confirmed by a National Survey on Drug Use and Health, finding 80% of tobacco users start before age 18.

However, what SB 7 also did was eliminate prior law making it a crime for those under 18 to possess, receive or purchase tobacco products. The penalties were hardly draconian-a fine of up to $75 and up to 30 hours of community service could be imposed by a Judge for minors caught possessing or buying tobacco products. In short, a small but meaningful consequence to deter behavior.

In its infinite wisdom, the California Legislature decided the way to deter smoking was only to make it a crime to sell or furnish tobacco products to those under 21. However, thanks to the Legislature, once those under 21 get tobacco products, they can possess and smoke them with abandon. Or, to borrow the catchphrase from the child’s game hide and seek allowing those hiding to come out without losing, smokers under age 21 have been given the “olly olly oxen free” chant by the Legislature.

It’s simply brilliant of the Legislature to discourage an activity by making it legal to engage in that activity. Next up, to address the property crime wave created by Prop 47 making thefts under $950 consequence free, expect a bill legalizing the possession of stolen property!

Heckuva job, California Legislature, heckuva job.