Support the Adult Use of Marijuana Act
In 1996, California voters passed the country’s first medicinal marijuana initiative, Proposition 215. In 2010, we had the opportunity to be the first state to end cannabis prohibition for all with Proposition 19, but narrowly failed with 46% in favor. The Peace and Freedom Party, in keeping with its platform calling for legalization of marijuana from its founding in 1967, supported both these measures.
In 2010, our support of Prop. 19 focused on the role played by the forces behind prohibition: the prison-industrial complex (the prison-building industry, private prison operators, prison guards’ and police officers’ associations, prosecutors, etc.), and the “competition” (mainly alcohol companies; pharmaceutical companies have also contributed). We also mentioned those who profit from the current black- and grey-market conditions.
The standard prohibitionist forces are still quite active opposing Prop. 64, but no more needs to be said about them here; their arguments are all well-known and thoroughly refuted. There’s another line of argument that was raised against Prop. 19 and is being raised against Prop. 64: that the proposition would actually do more harm than good, and that we should reject it in favor of something better later. The misinformation generated in the course of supporting this position could contribute to the defeat of Prop. 64 as it probably did to that of Prop. 19.
The remainder of this article will attempt to briefly answer the arguments of those who oppose Prop. 64 while being for “real” legalization. A more complete refutation can be found in the following articles:
Top 10 Myths About California’s Prop 64 (With Footnotes!)
Part Two of Russ Belville’s Top 10 Myths About California’s Prop 64
The main objections can be summed up under the following themes.
“It’s not ‘real’ legalization.”
These arguments basically come down to claiming that it’s already legal enough under the status quo, and that the things that will still be illegal under Prop. 64 are somehow new. But in fact, cannabis is still illegal; all that Prop. 215 does is provide an affirmative defense. People are still in jail; people are still being stopped, searched, arrested, harassed and brutalized because a cop smelled weed; people are still being denied employment and housing behind a criminal record for pot. Once Prop. 64 passes, all that stops: People in jail for something that Prop. 64 makes legal will be able to petition for release, and people with criminal records for things that are no longer crimes will be able to have those records expunged – and the burden of proof is on the state to prove why they shouldn’t. As for the things that are still illegal, penalties are sharply reduced on almost all of them (from felonies to misdemeanors or “wobblers”, or from misdemeanors to infractions), it eliminates jail for minors entirely, and perhaps most significantly, the mere odor of cannabis will no longer serve as probable cause for a stop and search. Even without its other benefits, and even if every other objection were true, this would be enough to merit our support.
“It ‘destroys’ Prop. 215.”
The part of this that isn’t an outright lie is based on a gross misunderstanding both of what Prop. 215 is and what Prop. 64 does. The lie is easy enough to debunk: Prop. 64 explicitly protects Prop. 215 and adds new protections on top; medical patients are exempt from the limits and restrictions imposed under Prop. 64 for non-medical adult use; and medical patients are further protected from having their children taken away, for one example. What is misunderstood is, first, what Prop. 215 does – which is only to provide an affirmative defense for medical need. Prop. 215 did not provide for anyone being able to purchase or otherwise acquire cannabis other than to grow their own, or any of the other activities currently engaged in by medical card holders; those are the result of legislation and regulations enacted long after Prop. 215 passed, chiefly SB 420 and recently superseded by the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA, formerly known as MMRSA). Opponents of Prop. 64 raise objections that are more properly directed at the MCRSA, claiming that they’re fixing to defeat the MCRSA in court but that Prop. 64 will prevent that by “enshrining” it within the language of an initiative. But that doesn’t work, as the above referenced article explains.
“It hands cannabis over to big corporations like Monsanto. That’s why billionaires like Sean Parker and George Soros support it!”
Prop. 64 actually gives priority to those currently in the business for two years, and to current (from 2015) California residents until 2020, and also does not provide for licensing large grows until 2023, providing small local farmers and businesses plenty of time to get set up under the new system before ever having to face competition from large out-of-state operations. And it has strong anti-monopoly provisions; for instance, among the reasons to deny a license to a business, the first on the list is if it would “allow unreasonable restrains on competition by creation or maintenance of unlawful monopoly power.” But it doesn’t stop there; the article, and the text of the measure itself, go into much more detail. The only real objection small farmers have is that it allows for large operations at all, starting in 2023. But even then, there’s nothing that says the state has to license larger operations, and if the small growers’ concerns about the impact of such operations are valid, there would be grounds under the terms of Prop. 64 to deny such licenses. The growers’ association opposed Prop. 19; on Prop. 64, they split just about 50:50, and as an organization they are neutral. Let’s hope that the Emerald Triangle doesn’t defeat legalization this time.
Errata: Originally posted that large-grow licenses come on line in 2020. Those licenses will not become available for five years after the other licenses come on line in 2018.
“It imposes onerous taxes that go into a politician’s ‘slush fund’.”
The argument that the taxes imposed by Prop. 64 are too high is not entirely without merit. And even though it does exempt medical patients from the 7.5% state sales tax, they are still subject to the same 15% excise tax and $9.25/oz. cultivation tax as everyone else, and that’s a shame. However, it’s still a better deal than the legalization law passed by the State of Washington, for example – and even with their much-higher taxes and other negative provisions that we won’t have to suffer, the price of cannabis has gone down there as in every other state that has passed legalization. Prohibition is a much higher tax, just considering the market price of the commodity and not even considering all of the other consequences. As for where the money goes, it’s the opposite of a “slush fund,” it’s a separately maintained fund which has very clear and explicit earmarks for how much is to be spent on what in which order. This actually is one of the things we don’t like about it – we prefer all tax money go to the General Fund where it can be spent on whatever we need – but most voters prefer earmarks, and the places and amounts are what have found favor among likely voters.
Finally, and most dangerously:
“We can do better.” Momentum is on our side, there’s no reason to rush to pass this initiative, there are better options available and if we defeat Prop. 64 we’ll be in a better position to pass one of the other, superior initiatives that have been circulated.
This is delusional. The other initiatives that Prop. 64 opponents tout have never come close to getting on the ballot, and there are no prospects that they ever will. (And those initiatives are actually worse than Prop. 64 in several of the ways opponents object to.) When California failed to pass Prop. 19 six years ago, it was a defeat for legalization efforts, but that defeat was mitigated by the facts that (1) it was the first non-medical legalization measure post-Prop. 215, (2) the uniquely unrestricted nature of Prop. 215 (which has provided a negative model for every other state’s medical initiatives ever since) and the greater influence of the Emerald Triangle growers skewed the results here, and (3) it was a non-Presidential election, with lower voter turnout and therefore skewed toward the conservative end. Failure to pass Prop. 64 in this election will not be seen as a signal that Californians want better legalization – it would be a major defeat for the entire concept of adult-use legalization and a major momentum-killer for the entire movement, while passing Prop. 64 would give that momentum a turbocharged boost not only across the U.S. but internationally as well.
Proposition 64 is not perfect, by any means. No proposition that could make it onto the California ballot, or stand a chance of passing in a state that is not as universally liberal and pot-friendly as one might imagine – Bay Area, Los Angeles and Emerald Triangle notwithstanding – could possibly satisfy the wishes and desires of cannabis consumers, producers and merchants. There are several legitimate objections, as noted here:
California NORML Guide to AUMA
But as noted, most of the real problems that exist can be fixed by further legislative work, as noted here:
Cal NORML’s Post-64 Reform Agenda
Advocates for the rights of cannabis consumers and opponents of the War on Drugs are advised to vote for Prop. 64 and to join in this work.