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Sex, drugs and death: what’s at stake in California polls

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Los Angeles, United States | AFP |

Sex, drugs and death are the star attractions of the November 8 elections in California, there being little doubt that Hillary Clinton will carry the heavily Democratic state.

Should actors in porno movies be required to wear condoms? Abolish the death penalty or expedite executions? How about recreational use of marijuana, yes or no?

Besides voting for the US president on Election Day, Californians will decide on 17 propositions on issues as varied as a ban on plastic grocery bags and a major expansion of multilingual education.

Condom mandate 

California is the capital of the porn industry as well as the larger movie industry. So among the proposals is one that would require actors to use condoms in sex scenes to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV, gonorrhea, syphilis or human papillomavirus.

“In practicing your craft, you shouldn’t have to become ill,” said Gary Richwald, a doctor and university professor who led Los Angeles’s program to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

What’s wrong with using a condom? None, says the porn industry. But if it passes, any actor or producer could be subject to criminal charges simply for not using one.

Actors themselves, supported by various HIV prevention organizations, say they have a right to their own bodies and want condoms to be an option rather than a requirement.

They advocate a system of voluntary tests every 15 days, but Richwald counters they would be unreliable because incubation periods are often much shorter.

Death row 

Since California approved the death penalty in 1978, 13 people have been executed, the last one in 2006. But the US state has more people on death row than any other: more than 740.

Capital punishment is costly, inefficient and unsustainable, says Don Heller, who helped draft the death penalty legislation 38 years ago and now advocates its abolition.

Proposition 62 would substitute life in prison for execution, in line with a proposal defeated once before in 2012.

But police and prosecutors don’t just want to keep the death penalty, they want to expedite the process under a counter-proposal, Proposition 66, also being put to the vote.

For campaign co-chair Mike Ramos, a prosecutor from San Bernardino, where an Islamic extremist husband and wife killed 14 people last year, the sentence is justified for the “worst of the worst” crimes — the murders of children, kidnapping and rape, cop killings and serial killings.

Legal weed 

The use of medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. Recreational use was rejected in 2000, but it is back on the November ballot.

Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine also could join the four states which along with the District of Colombia have legalized the most popular drug in the United States, even though it continues to be illegal in the eyes of the federal government.

“It’s time to legalize, it’s time to tax, it’s time to regulate marijuana for adults in California,” said California’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom.

“This is not a debate about hippies,” he added. That’s true: medical marijuana is estimated to be a $7.1 billion market, and one projected to grow to $22 billion by 2020, according to ArcView Market Research.

Legalization in California, which has the sixth-largest economy in the world, will be key to maintaining that momentum and spurring the trend on a national level.

Ecology war 

California also may become the first US state to ban single-use plastic bags if it ratifies a 2014 measure that set a 10-cent charge for paper bags. The ban has already been approved by many local and county jurisdictions, including Los Angeles.

Plastic bags are among the five objects most collected in cleanups of the California coast.

Opponents of the ban argue that it would hurt the poor — by forcing them to buy other types of bag — and threaten some 30,000 manufacturing jobs.

Californians also will vote on a law that would substantially revise restrictions on teaching school classes in other languages than English.

The proposal supporting multilingual education comes at a time when immigrants make up 25 percent of the state’s population and immigration is a hot-button issue in the presidential campaigns.

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