Opinion: Why pro-pot activists oppose Prop 19

Stop19.com is a group of cannabis users against Prop 19.

When most marijuana activists, growers and consumers first heard about an initiative that would legalize cannabis in California, they thought it was a pipe dream come true. To many, legalization implied that it would no longer be a crime to possess, consume or distribute marijuana. Cannabis consumers rejoiced at the idea of being able to buy from their neighbors or at parties just as they already do–with no legal retribution. Small-time growers envisioned being free to sell their product to those who sought them out, with no legal repercussions. Marijuana activists thought it meant that people would stop getting arrested for pot, and that the drug war would finally be over. But now that the initiative is headed to ballot, many pro-legalization supporters are coming out against it. Why?

Simply put, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative does not reflect most people’s ideas of what legalization would be. The media often incorrectly reports that this initiative calls for “full legalization” of marijuana. It does not. In fact, it reverses many of the freedoms marijuana consumers currently enjoy, pushes growers out of the commercial market, paves the way for the corporatization of cannabis, and creates new prohibitions where there are none now. Apparently, to be pro-legalization and pro-initiative are two different things entirely.

The late-Jack Herer, legendary marijuana activist known as the father of the legalization movement, vehemently opposed the initiative. In the last words of his impassioned final speech, moments before the heart attack that would eventually claim his life, he urged people not to support it. [1] Proposition 215 author, Dennis Peron, likewise denounced the initiative, saying it is not legalization, but “thinly-veiled prohibition.” [2]

Compared to the present status of cannabis in California, many marijuana activists see this initiative as a giant leap backward. Ironically, it appears that marijuana is more “legal” in California today than it would be if this initiative were to pass.

The initiative itself is a hazy maze of regulations and controls, some of which are ambiguous and confusing even for those well-versed in marijuana law. Understandably, many who have entered the discussion seem to have bypassed the initiative altogether and gone straight to their own assumptions of what an initiative that claims to legalize marijuana might entail, injecting the debate with as many misconceptions as facts. But for an issue that would have such a direct and unprecedented impact on our daily lives, it’s crucial to decide your vote based on knowledge, rather than assumption.

To clarify a few of the most glaring myths about the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative, I have compiled this guide to help you vote "know!"

Myth #1: The initiative will end the War on Drugs and substantially reduce marijuana arrests, saving millions in prison costs.

Fact: Hardly. The federal drug war will continue to drone on, of course, and growing or possessing any amount of marijuana would still be illegal under federal law. Anyone growing or possessing cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation would still be subject to arrest and seizure by the federal police – although on the bright side, the Obama administration recently announced it will no longer raid individuals who are operating in compliance with medical marijuana law.[3]

Contrary to popular assumption, the drug war in California will not end, nor will it be impacted much by the initiative. This is because the initiative doesn’t call for full legalization; it proposes to legalize possession of only up to one ounce. And in California, there is no “drug war” being fought against possession of up to one ounce, because marijuana is already decriminalized.

The penalty for carrying an ounce is a mere citation and maximum $100 fine.[4] Moreover, possession of one ounce is on its way to being downgraded from a misdemeanor to an infraction, because the state Senate voted in June to reclassify its status. [5] No one goes to jail for having an ounce or less in California, and no one gets arrested, because it is not an arrestable offense.

One often-quoted statistic in the initiative debate is that misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests reached 61,388 in 2008.[6] However, it is important to note that this statistic does not refer to any arrest demographic that the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative would affect. This statistic refers only to possession of more than one ounce, possession by minors and possession on school grounds­– offenses which the initiative will not legalize. It does not refer to nor does it include marijuana arrests for possession of one ounce or less, because this is not an arrestable offense. Therefore, the initiative would have no impact on reducing these arrests rates.

Statistically, the demographic that accounts for nearly one-quarter of total arrests for marijuana possession in California happens to be those in the 18-20 age group. But because the initiative explicitly makes it illegal for even adults age 18-20 to possess marijuana, these arrests will not decrease, and the drug war against young adults will rage on.

Furthermore, since the initiative would keep possession of amounts greater than one ounce illegal and likewise maintain the illegality of private sales of any amount, the overall impact that the initiative would have on ending the drug war, reducing arrest rates and saving on prison costs would be negligible, at best.

As an example of how highly misunderstood this initiative and its potential impact on the drug war is, the California NAACP recently pledged their support for the initiative based on the belief that it will put an end to the disproportionately high number of African American youth going to jail “over a joint.” [7] But in reality, the initiative will have no impact on this phenomenon whatsoever. As it is now, the State of California does not jail people for having a joint; it is not an arrestable offense. And, as mentioned above, possession of up to one ounce is on its way to being reclassified from a misdemeanor to an infraction – which carries no criminal-record stigma. The state does, however, incarcerate people for selling small amounts of marijuana. And since this initiative keeps private marijuana sales illegal, no matter the quantity, there will be no decrease in the number of African Americans – or anyone else – arrested for selling a joint.

Not only does the initiative do little or nothing to end the drug war, but ironically, it could in fact expand the drug war, because it imposes new prohibitions against marijuana that do not exist currently.

Contrary to the belief that it will keep people out of jail for marijuana, this initiative actually creates new demographics of people to incarcerate. (See Fact #2 and Fact #3) It is difficult to see how the government would save on court and imprisonment costs if the initiative merely shifts arrests from one demographic to another.

Myth #2: The initiative will keep young adults out of jail for using marijuana.

Fact: This initiative would put more young people in jail for pot.If it becomes law, any adult 21 or over who passes a joint to another adult aged 18-20 would face six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. [8] (NORML's Web site reports that the current penalty for a gift of marijuana of 1 oz. or less is a $100 fine.[9])

Myth #3: You'll be able to light up freely in the privacy of your home.

Fact: That depends.Under the initiative, even adults consuming marijuana in the privacy of their homes could face arrest if there are minors present (not something one would expect from an initiative that claims to treat marijuana like alcohol and tobacco)[10]. Current marijuana law contains no such restrictions. Thanks to Prop. 215, which legalized marijuana for medicinal use, cannabis consumers have been legally free to smoke in the privacy of their homes since 1997. This initiative seeks to undermine that freedom, making it absolutely illegal to smoke marijuana if there are minors present. (The initiative is ambiguous with regard to whether “present” means being in the same room as the consumer, the same house, the same apartment building, or within wafting distance – apparently leaving this up to the interpretation of judges.) There is no exception for medical marijuana patients or for parents consuming in the presence of their own children.

Myth #4: Under the initiative, anyone 21 or over will be allowed to grow marijuana in a 5’x5’ space.

Fact: Not quite. This allotment is per property, not per person.If you share a residence with other people, you’ll be sharing a 5’x5’ grow space, as well. Even if you own multiple acres that many people live on, if it is considered one parcel, the space restriction of 5’x5’ (3-6 plants) will still apply. [11] Plus, if you rent, you will be required to obtain permission from your landlord – which they may be unwilling to grant since doing so will subject them to forfeiture by the federal government.

Myth #5: Adults 21 and over will be able to possess up to one ounce of marijuana without penalty.

Fact: Perhaps the most ironic piece of the puzzle is that the initiative to legalize marijuana actually makes it illegal to possess marijuana if it was purchased anywhere other than the very few licensed dispensaries in the state.[12] So if this initiative passes, better not get caught carrying marijuana you bought off your neighbor, your current dealer, or at a party; you could get arrested. And if you do buy from a licensed dispensary, better keep your receipts, because the burden of proof will be on you. Not only is this inconvenient, but it sets the industry up to be monopolized.

What’s more, if your city decides not to tax cannabis, then buying and selling marijuana in the city limits would remain illegal. You would be permitted to possess and consume marijuana, but you would be required to travel to another city that taxes cannabis to buy it.[13] This is a move towards decreased, not increased, access. And since the initiative is so ambiguous that cities are destined to be tied up in a legal quagmire over how to interpret it, many local governments might find it simpler just to opt-out and send its citizens elsewhere. Indeed, 129 cities did just that with medical marijuana, banning it outright, while still others have established moratoriums against dispensaries. In fact, of the entire state, only the city of Oakland has endorsed the initiative. A vote for the initiative will therefore not ensure local access to purchase marijuana legally.

Myth #6: The initiative will free up cops to focus on bigger crimes.

Fact: Decriminalization has already achieved this.The California Police Chiefs Association publicly admits that they do not waste their time on cases involving an ounce or less.[14] Moreover, many cities have already passed measures that require law enforcement to make marijuana possession their lowest priority.

What the initiative would do is create new prohibitions where there were none before, obligating police officers to spend valuable time enforcing them. The cases cops presently de-prioritize are minor offenses, like simple possession. But the initiative takes minor offenses and reclassifies them as more serious crimes (e.g., passing a joint to an adult 18-20). Law enforcement’s time is freed up by the elimination of prohibition, not by exchanging old prohibitions for new ones.

Myth #7: Marijuana tax revenue will go toward education and health care.

Fact:As it is now, state budget cuts have resulted in the closing of state parks, and health care for impoverished children has been revoked, not to mention thousands of government lay-offs. But marijuana taxes will not be earmarked for health care, public education, the re-opening of state parks, or rehiring of laid-off government employees. Instead, the initiative specifically states that any marijuana tax revenue can be used toward enforcing the new prohibitions that the initiative enacts.[15] In this regard, not only does the initiative not end the drug war, it apparently taxes the drug to fund the drug war.

Myth #8: Marijuana growers will be able to sell cannabis legally.

Fact: Currently, marijuana growers in California who have a medical recommendation can and do grow and provide marijuana legally. Entire economies in Northern California exist on this industry. However, the initiative would make it illegal for anyone to sell marijuana, unless they own a licensed dispensary.[16] (See Fact #9)

Many have suggested that growers could open marijuana-tasting venues, similar to wine-tasting at vineyards. A grower might have a chance of opening such a place, but only if he gave his product away for free, because selling it would be illegal unless he successfully navigated the notoriously difficult and prohibitively expensive process of obtaining licensure.

Myth #9: Anyone can obtain a license to legally sell cannabis and compete in the market.

Fact: Few people will be able to compete in the multibillion-dollar marijuana market if the initiative passes.This is because the licensing process, engineered in Oakland, is exceptionally restrictive. Of the more than a thousand dispensaries operating in California until a recent L.A. crackdown, only a handful were licensed. (Conveniently, Richard Lee, the millionaire behind the initiative, owns one of them). In Oakland, the city that’s setting the precedent in the tax cannabis push, a license costs $30,000. Per year. Not to mention the rigorous application process, in which even well-established, law-abiding dispensaries have been denied.

Furthermore, Oakland has started a trend of capping the number of licensed dispensaries allowed to operate (in Oakland, that number is four). This all but guarantees that the average, small-time marijuana grower will be shut out of this multibillion-dollar industry, concentrating the profits of the potential economic boon in the hands of a small minority of wealthy entrepreneurs who are already making moves to monopolize the industry. Under this initiative, the marijuana industry will not be a free market in which everyone has a chance to compete. Instead, the initiative could mark the beginning of the corporatization of marijuana. (See also Fact #15)

Myth #10: Medical marijuana patients would be exempt from the initiative.

Fact: This is not exactly true. While amendments were made ostensibly to prevent the initiative from affecting current medical marijuana law, a careful reading of the initiative reveals that this is not, in fact, the case.Certain medical marijuana laws are exempt from the prohibitions the initiative would enact, while others are glaringly absent.

Cultivation is one such law that is noticeably non-exempt.[17] In spite of the fact that the tax cannabis Web site says otherwise, the only medical marijuana exemptions that the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative actually makes are with regard to possession, consumption and purchase limits, which only ensure that patients would still be allowed to buy medicine at dispensaries. The word “cultivate” is conspicuously absent. Whereas today a person with a doctor’s recommendation has the right to grow up to an unlimited number of plants, the initiative would drastically reduce that number to whatever can fit in a 5’x5’ footprint (around 3-6 plants—per property, not per person). This will force many patients to resort to buying instead of growing their own medicine, because of the inconvenience caused by producing multiple grows a year rather than growing a year’s supply of medicine at one time, as many patients currently do outdoors. And growing indoors—which typically requires special grow lights, an increase in hydro use, and a lot of time and attention—is a comparatively expensive endeavor.

The initiative would further impact medical marijuana patients by banning medicating in the privacy of their own homes if there are minors present, as well as in public (currently perfectly legal[18])—an invaluable liberty to those with painful diseases who would otherwise have to suffer until they got home to relieve their pain.

Finally, the medical marijuana laws that are exempted from this initiative apparently only apply to cities. For medical marijuana patients who live in an area that has county or local government jurisdiction, according to a strict reading of the initiative, medical marijuana laws are not exempt.[19]

Myth #11: Marijuana smokers will be free to smoke cannabis wherever cigarette smoking is allowed.

Fact: Actually, that's the way it is now in California. There is no law prohibiting medical marijuana from being smoked wherever cigarette smoking is permitted.[20] Young adults taking bong hits in Golden Gate Park on a Sunday afternoon is just part of the San Francisco scenery. However, if this initiative passes, that freedom would disappear and we could see cops policing smoking areas to enforce this law.[21]

Myth #12: Currently imprisoned non-violent marijuana offenders would be released.

Fact: The initiative makes no call to release prisoners who are behind bars for any marijuana offense, no matter how minor.In fact, because it introduces new prohibitions where none exist now, the initiative could potentially be responsible for locking even more people up for marijuana.

Myth #13: Counties in which marijuana cultivation currently thrives will experience increased economic growth.

Fact: Entire economies could collapse in counties that currently rely on cultivating marijuana. Right now, the multibillion-dollar marijuana industry is legally subsidizing thousands of incomes in areas where unemployment is skyrocketing. For example, Mendocino County, the biggest pot-producing county in the U.S., reports that a full two-thirds of its economy is dependent on marijuana.[22] Much of this is due to current state medical marijuana laws, which allow people to legally cultivate plants and provide them to marijuana pharmacies. But this economy supports more than just farmers.

Many local store owners report that without marijuana farmers patronizing their businesses with cash, they would go out of business. Moreover, legitimate medical marijuana growers employ tens of thousands of seasonal workers, mostly young adults, who have managed to eke out a living in a region where none other exists, and who otherwise would have few local options to support themselves. The more humble among them are able to make a living that sustains them modestly throughout much of the year. Thousands more are able to subsidize low-paying jobs, make up for shortages in their college funding, and start creative projects such as fashion design, music production, or art. But because the initiative would limit the number of plants one could grow from up to an unlimited amount to about six, thousands of small-time medical marijuana farmers and the young adults they employ would face economic displacement and hardship, or join the ranks of the unemployed. (For more on this, see Fact #15.)

Myth #14: The initiative will create an employment boon similar to California’s wine industry.

Fact: Comparisons with the wine industry are no true basis for determining the potential revenue recreational marijuana could create, because the wine industry does not operate under the same restrictions the marijuana industry would face.

Namely, there’s no cap on how many wineries can operate in California, or how many grapes each vineyard can grow. There are currently almost 3,000 vineyards in the state, whereas since the April crackdown in L.A., there are fewer than 300 dispensaries (of which only a few are licensed). Moreover, if cities continue to follow the trend set by Oakland and cap the number of licensed dispensaries allowed to operate, then the thousands of people currently legally employed by dispensaries would dwindle drastically.

Myth #15: The initiative will limit the viability of Mexican drug cartels.

Fact: Mexican drug cartels are already being undermined tremendously thanks to the legions of small-time farmers growing in California.The Washington Post reported on October 7, 2009:

“Almost all of the marijuana consumed in the multibillion-dollar U.S. market once came from Mexico or Colombia. Now as much as half is produced domestically, often by small-scale operators who painstakingly tend greenhouses and indoor gardens to produce the more potent… product that consumers now demand, according to authorities and marijuana dealers on both sides of the border. … Stiff competition from thousands of mom-and-pop marijuana farmers in the United States threatens the bottom line for powerful Mexican drug organizations in a way that decades of arrests and seizures have not, according to law enforcement officials and pot growers in the United States and Mexico.”[23]

These mom-and-pop growers don’t fit the stereotype of the gang-war era drug pusher or Mexican drug cartel growing marijuana irresponsibly and setting forests on fire. Many of them are law-abiding citizens, legally growing medical marijuana under Prop. 215. They’re the people you see at your local organic health food store, or shopping in the community, putting much-needed cash directly into the local economy while the national economy flounders in recession. These small-time marijuana farmers use the money they earn from providing medicine to finance their kids’ education, help out their laid-off parents and put themselves through school. In some cases, entire communities depend on them.

However, if this initiative passes, these growers that are single-handedly undercutting the Mexican drug cartels would no longer be able to legally operate and the face of the marijuana industry could change from the local one we recognize to an impersonal corporate entity, leaving a spate of displaced marijuana farmers in its wake.

One corporation that is poised to take the place of the mom-and-pop growers is AgraMed. While Oakland’s city council prepares to consider a proposal in July to license four commercial indoor marijuana farms in the city, AgraMed has plans to build a 100,000-sq.-ft. marijuana mega-farm near Oakland International Airport that, “according to projections, could generate 58 pounds of pot a day and $59 million a year in revenue.” The company’s president, Jeff Wilcox—a member of the steering committee of the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative—reportedly hopes to “bring a degree of corporate structure to the marijuana industry.”[24]

The language that backers of the initiative use itself is cause for concern among pro-marijuana supporters. Instead of speaking out against the injustice of jailing people over a plant that is widely known not only to be harmless, but beneficial, these multimillionaire supporters of the initiative speak only of their intentions to corporatize marijuana. The owner of one leading marijuana dispensary—that already earns well over $20 million a year—was quoted in the New York Times as having aspirations to become the “McDonald’s of marijuana.”[25] The proprietors of Oakland’s new i-Grow hydroponics store want it to be known as the “Wal-Mart” of grow stores.[26] Meanwhile, Marijuana, Inc., a multimillion-dollar corporation, has plans to build cannabis resorts in the Northern California counties that currently survive off the medical marijuana industry.[27] They intend to create golf resorts with acres of marijuana gardens featuring hundreds of strains. (Apparently, under this initiative, corporations would be permitted to grow quite large quantities of cannabis, while cultivation would be restricted to 5’ x 5’ plots for everyone else.)

The accusations that medical marijuana growers oppose the initiative out of greed are clearly grossly unfounded. It is obvious who has intentions of increasing their bottom line. Small-time marijuana farmers simply want to continue making a humble living off the land. They are the ones who built the marijuana industry, but this initiative seeks to allow corporations to take their hard work and turn it into profits for themselves, locking farmers out of the industry entirely.

We have seen this trend before in the United States. Our history is replete with small farmers being taken over by huge corporations. Hundreds of thousands of mom-and-pop businesses have been forced out of business by conglomerates like Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Monsanto, which those who benefit from such takeovers have justified by calling it “progress.” But is it? And is this the sort of “progress” we want to see take over the marijuana industry? Is this the world Peter Tosh had in mind when he implored us to “legalize it?”

Marijuana may well be the final bastion of farmer-owned, worker-owned, business autonomy in this country. Will we allow it, too, to go the way of nearly every other homegrown industry in the history of the United States? We all hope for legalization. But must we have such a drastic, Faustian trade-off for this freedom? And is it really freedom if we must lose our autonomy to gain it?

One farmer’s response to the news of Marijuana Inc.’s resort aspirations poignantly sums up the pending reality should the initiative pass:

“Marijuana, Inc., has big plans to invade the Emerald Triangle and surrounding counties to really capitalize on marijuana tourism. Maybe that sounds like fun to people that aren’t from around here, but it is really going to take away a lot of opportunity from the locals who make this place what it is. I feel that the people here who created this industry are going to be left in the dust for the most part… There is just too much money at stake and that is what these guys are all about. This is the equivalent of the giant hotels popping up on the Hawaiian Islands and the locals being told, ‘You can still work at the resort. We’ll need maids and groundskeepers who’ll work for minimum wage...’”[28]

What is currently a small-time, largely organic industry—on which entire economies survive, and without which entire economies would collapse—could soon become dominated by corporations if this initiative passes. The days of “knowing your dealer” and what goes into your pot could soon be over, and marijuana, a sacrament to many, could become corporatized. Are corporations inherently evil? No. But if we have the option to keep millions of dollars in our own communities, spread out over hundreds of thousands of people, it hardly seems sensible to outsource this employment to corporations and into the hands of a few.

Is it possible to have marijuana legalization without legalizing corporate takeover of the industry? Absolutely. Will those who are passionate about marijuana live to regret voting in an initiative that treats marijuana as a publicly-traded commodity and turns it into something as abhorrent as Wal-Mart and McDonald’s? Absolutely. Do we have to settle for this? Absolutely not.

Myth #16: The price of marijuana will drop.

Fact: The value of marijuana might decrease if it becomes more commercially available and more people grow their own, but the price of a product depends less on its value and more on the degree of competition that exists with regard to selling it.

Since your options for purchasing marijuana would be among only a handful of licensed dispensaries in the state, there is no guarantee of a decrease in price. Less competition means higher prices.

Indeed, by AgraMed’s own estimation, in order to make $59 million a year off 58 pounds per day, they would have to charge $175 per ounce wholesale (roughly $2,800 per pound)—and that’s if they produced 58 pounds 365 days a year. If they managed to produce that output only 5 days a week, that price would leap to $245 an ounce (about $3900 per pound). With shelf-prices at dispensaries often set at double the wholesale purchase price—not to mention the compulsory tax added onto every ounce (which Richard Lee stated in an interview was "recommended" to be $50)—the price of marijuana could potentially be higher than it is in our current market, in which the price of a pound has already fallen to $2,000, according to a recent National Public Radio report; a direct result of healthy competition, not its opposite.[29]

Myth #17: We can vote in the initiative and fix the tangles as they come up.

Fact: Initiatives create permanent statutes. Once an initiative is voted into law, it cannot be reversed. It remains law forever. It is worth noting that this initiative makes some unusual provisions with regard to amendments. For starters, it allows the legislature (traditionally hostile toward marijuana legislation) to amend the initiative without voter approval. Furthermore, it allows amendments, but “only to further the purposes of the Act.”[30] Under a monopolized, corporate-controlled distribution process, the “purposes” might become more narrowly defined.

Many of the issues that pro-legalization supporters have with the initiative could be easily rectifiable with a few sentences and an amendment-submission to the Attorney General’s office. It would have required very little on the part of the initiative authors to remove the vagueness from the wording that bans smoking cannabis in any “space” where minors are “present,” for example, or to add an exemption for medical marijuana patients and parents consuming in the presence of their own children. It would have required very little to write into the initiative a line that would exempt medical marijuana patients from the public smoking ban and protect their right to grow medicine in amounts sufficient for their individual needs. After all, these are items which should not be considered luxuries under legalized marijuana; they should be rights. And we should settle for nothing less.

Unfortunately, the deadline to make changes to the initiative before the November elections has already passed, and to achieve these changes via subsequent voter referendums would be a complicated and drawn-out process that could take years. Making the initiative acceptable before voting it into law is therefore essential.

Myth #18: This is our only chance to take a step in the direction of legalization.

Fact: This is only our first chance—and it is NOT our only choice.This November, volunteers for the California Hemp and Health Initiative (CCHHI)—the initiative Jack Herer supported so much he lent his legendary name to it—will be collecting signatures to be placed on the CCHHI on the ballot in 2012. Some highlights of this alternative to Prop. 19 include:

--The freedom to grow up to 99 plants—per adult, 21 years of age and older (not per residence as under Prop. 19)—for personal use.

--Cannabis taxes shall not exceed $10.00 per ounce.

--The freedom to distribute cannabis among adults without a license. (Prop. 19 forbids distributing cannabis except for those who manage to obtain a prohibitively expensive license.)

--The cost of a commercial license shall not exceed $1,000. (The cost for a commercial cannabis vending license in Oakland is $60,000 per year. A commercial grow license is a whopping $211,000 per year.)

--No cannabis tax revenue will be allowed to assist law enforcement. (Prop. 19 specifically allows for marijuana tax revenue to fund law enforcement.)

For those who have doubts about supporting Prop. 19 or the motives behind it, CCHHI is a viable alternative. (For more on CCHHI, visit http://www.jackherer.com/initiative and http://youthfederation.com/cchhi2012.html).

Myth #19: We can vote in Prop. 19, then vote in a better initiative later.

Likelihood: Although 2012 will offer us a brilliant alternative with the CCHHI/Jack Herer Initiative, the more likely scenario is that by that time, big cannabis corporations will have all the money, power, and influence they need to thwart any challenge to their monopoly.What do you suppose are the chances of voting in an initiative like CCHHI--that emphasizes personal freedom over corporations and seeks to fully legalize possession, cultivation, and distribution of marijuana--after the cannabis corporations just spent two years multiplying their millions legally under the monopoly Prop. 19 creates, keeping everyone else out of the market, and making it illegal for you to buy your weed from anyone but them? There IS no chance. For this reason, WE CANNOT VOTE FOR PROP. 19 NOW AND THEN VOTE FOR CCHHI IN 2012 TO REPLACE IT. Because if Prop. 19 gets voted in, then once it's in, big cannabis corporations will make sure it stays in, and that it continues to serve them and not the people.

This is not our only chance to vote yes to legalization, but it may be our only chance to vote no to the corporatization of cannabis._

What now?

The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative is not the only path to legalization. We have come so far, and are now so close—it is imperative that we let the next step be the right one. Legalized marijuana is within reach, yet the movement could be set back with such a problematic initiative at the helm. Instead of rushing to pass a measure that prohibits marijuana under the guise of legalization, we can choose an initiative that calls for true legalization and that has the full support of marijuana law reform organizations and leaders of the movement.

The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Initiative is rife with ambiguity, expands the War on Drugs, undermines the medical marijuana movement, arrests more people for marijuana, offers no protection for small farmers and insufficient protection for medical marijuana users, has a high potential for monopolization, provides no regulations to prevent corporate takeover of the industry, cartelizes the economy, and divides our community into poor, unlicensed, mom-and-pop gardener versus rich, licensed, corporate farmer. And since the one thing that’s clear about the initiative is that it’s vague, it could very easily prove to be a Pandora’s box of unintended consequences. Beyond its vagueness, which itself is problematic, these side effects are inherently socially dangerous. The impact that such a failed legalization initiative could have on the movement nation-wide could be disastrous.

This is not a question of whether to legalize or not to legalize. Legalization is the goal and it is inevitable. The question is whether we want to rush in and settle for an initiative that is so poorly-worded as to be ambiguous, and so vague as to be open to vast interpretation from judges—or choose a better option, like the Jack Herer Initiative, in 2012. If we hold out for a perfect initiative we will wait forever. But if we at least hold out for an initiative that is direct, unambiguous, well-defined and clearly written, we will have an unprecedented opportunity to inspire the world to join the movement to legalize marijuana.

Many pro-legalization activists are rallying behind the idea of taking the time to choose an initiative that will be a clear step up from the current cannabis situation of in California and will result in increased access—not its opposite. Both NORML and the MPP, the foremost cannabis law reform organizations in the country, have suggested we wait and make another attempt at legalization during the 2012 elections. Dale Gieringer, Director of California’s NORML, said, “I do think it’s going to take a few more years for us to develop a proposal that voters will be comfortable with.”[32] Likewise, Bruce Mirken, MPP’s Director of Communications, was quoted as saying, “In our opinion, we should wait and build our forces and aim at 2012.”[33]

Ultimately, the decision is not up to any organization; it’s up to YOU. How will you vote? Read the initiative for yourself and just VOTE KNOW!

“I hope people find the hope and inspiration to broadcast this, understand (the initiative), read it, and know that it's a step backwards. And we can do better. We will do better.” - Dennis Peron

Sidebar: What it Actually Says

About possessing marijuana bought somewhere other than a licensed outlet:

Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11301: Commercial Regulations and Controls: (g) prohibit and punish through civil fines or other remedies the possession, sale, possession for sale, cultivation, processing, or transportation of cannabis that was not obtained lawfully from a person pursuant to this section or section 11300; [Section 11300: (i) possession for sale regardless of amount, except by a person who is licensed or permitted to do so under the terms of an ordinance adopted pursuant to section 11301.]

About the punishment for giving marijuana to adults age 18-20:

Section 4: Prohibition on Furnishing Marijuana to Minors: (c) Every person 21 years of age or over who knowingly furnishes, administers, or gives, or offers to furnish, administer or give, any marijuana to a person aged 18 years or older, but younger than 21 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of up to six months and be fined up to $1,000 for each offense.

About smoking in the presence of minors:

Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls: (c) “Personal consumption” shall not include, and nothing in this Act shall permit: (iv) smoking cannabis in any space while minors are present.

About using marijuana tax revenue to fund law enforcement against pot prohibition:

Section 11302: Imposition and Collection of Taxes and Fees (a) Any ordinance, regulation or other act adopted pursuant to section 11301 may include imposition of appropriate general, special or excise, transfer or transaction taxes, benefit assessments, or fees, on any activity authorized pursuant to such enactment, in order to permit the local government to raise revenue, or to recoup any direct or indirect costs associated with the authorized activity, or the permitting or licensing scheme, including without limitation: administration; applications and issuance of licenses or permits; inspection of licensed premises and other enforcement of ordinances adopted under section 11301, including enforcement against unauthorized activities.

About medical marijuana exemptions:

B: Purposes, 7: Ensure that if a city decides not to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, that buying and selling cannabis within that city’s limits remain illegal, but that the city’s citizens still have the right to possess and consume small amounts except as permitted under Health and Safety Sections 11362.5 and 11362.7 through 11362.9. (Note: The word “cultivate” is conspicuously absent here as well as in the exempted Health and Safety Sections that pertain to medical marijuana laws.)

About leaving medical marijuana cultivation law in the hands of local government:

Section 11301: Commercial Regulations and Controls: Notwithstanding any other provision of state or local law, a local government may adopt ordinances, regulations, or other acts having the force of law to control, license, regulate, permit or otherwise authorize, with conditions, the following: (a) cultivation, processing, distribution, the safe and secure transportation, sale and possession for sale of cannabis, but only by persons and in amounts lawfully authorized. (Note: This section provides no exemptions for medical marijuana law.)

About the right to cultivate:

Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls: (ii) Cultivate, on private property by the owner, lawful occupant, or other lawful resident or guest of the private property owner or lawful occupant, cannabis plants for personal consumption only, in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence or, in the absence of any residence, the parcel.

This article was originally posted on the Stoners Against Prop 19 Tax Cannabis Initiative blog.

____________



[1] Bruce Cain. “War Breaks out Within the Marijuana Legalization Movement (Part 1),” Examiner. Sept. 26, 2009

[2] J. Craig Canada. “Proposition 215 author announces boycott of Blue Sky medical marijuana dispensary,” Examiner. Oct. 15, 2009

[3] Carrie Johnson. “U.S. Eases Stance on Medical Marijuana,” Washington Post. Oct. 20, 2009

[4] National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws.

http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4525

[5] Matt Coker. “State Bill Would Knock Possession of Less Than an Ounce of Marijuana to an Infraction,“ Orange County Weekly. Jun. 4, 2010

[6] Mike Males, PhD and Daniel Macallair, MPA. “Marijuana Arrests and California’s Drug War: A Report to the California Legislature,” Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. 2009. Note: This study also reports the often-quoted statistic of misdemeanor marijuana possession arrests reaching 61,388 in 2008. However, it is important to note that this statistic does not refer to any arrest demographic that the Regulate, Control and Tax Initiative would affect. This statistic refers only to possession of more than one ounce, possession by minors, and possession on school grounds--offenses which the initiative will not legalize. It does not refer to nor does it include marijuana arrests for possession of one ounce or less, because possession of one ounce or less is not an arrestable offense. Therefore, the initiative would have no impact on reducing these arrests rates.

[7] Brian Braiker. “California: Odd Bedfellows in the Pro-Pot Ballot Initiative,” ABC News. Apr. 5, 2010

[8] Section 4: Prohibition on Furnishing Marijuana to Minors: (c) Every person 21 years of age or over who knowingly furnishes, administers, or gives, or offers to furnish, administer or give, any marijuana to a person aged 18 years or older, but younger than 21 years of age, shall be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of up to six months and be fined up to $1,000 for each offense.

[9] National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws. http://norml.org/index.cfm?Group_ID=4525

[10] Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls: (c) “Personal consumption” shall not include, and nothing in this Act shall permit: (iv) smoking cannabis in any space while minors are present.

[11] Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls: (ii) Cultivate, on private property by the owner, lawful occupant, or other lawful resident or guest of the private property owner or lawful occupant, cannabis plants for personal consumption only, in an area of not more than twenty-five square feet per private residence or, in the absence of any residence, the parcel.

[12] Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11301: Commercial Regulations and Controls: (g) prohibit and punish through civil fines or other remedies the possession, sale, possession for sale, cultivation, processing, or transportation of cannabis that was not obtained lawfully from a person pursuant to this section or section 11300; [Section 11300: (i) possession for sale regardless of amount, except by a person who is licensed or permitted to do so under the terms of an ordinance adopted pursuant to section 11301]

[13] B: Purposes, 7: Ensure that if a city decides not to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, that buying and selling cannabis within that city’s limits remain illegal, but that the city’s citizens still have the right to possess and consume small amounts. (Note: The word “cultivate” is conspicuously absent.)

[14] Brian Braiker. “California: Odd Bedfellows in the Pro-Pot Ballot Initiative,” ABC News. Apr. 5, 2010

[15] Section 11302: Imposition and Collection of Taxes and Fees (a) Any ordinance, regulation or other act adopted pursuant to section 11301 may include imposition of appropriate general, special or excise, transfer or transaction taxes, benefit assessments, or fees, on any activity authorized pursuant to such enactment, in order to permit the local government to raise revenue, or to recoup any direct or indirect costs associated with the authorized activity, or the permitting or licensing scheme, including without limitation: administration; applications and issuance of licenses or permits; inspection of licensed premises and other enforcement of ordinances adopted under section 11301, including enforcement against unauthorized activities.

[16] Section 3: Lawful Activities: Section 11301: Commercial Regulations and Controls: (g) prohibit and punish through civil fines or other remedies the possession, sale, possession for sale, cultivation, processing, or transportation of cannabis that was not obtained lawfully from a person pursuant to this section or section 11300; [(b) retail sale of not more than one ounce per transaction, in licensed premises, to persons 21 years or older, for personal consumption and not for resale]

[17] Medical marijuana exemptions: B: Purposes, 7: Ensure that if a city decides not to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, that buying and selling cannabis within that city’s limits remain illegal, but that the city’s citizens still have the right to possess and consume small amounts except as permitted under Health and Safety Sections 11362.5 and 11362.7 through 11362.9. (Note: The word “cultivate” is conspicuously absent.)

Although this refers to cities that decide not to tax marijuana, even in cities that do choose to tax, the initiative explicitly supersedes medical marijuana law and gives local government control over how much patients can cultivate, as seen in Section 11301: Commercial Regulations and Controls: Notwithstanding any other provision of state or local law, a local government may adopt ordinances, regulations, or other acts having the force of law to control, license, regulate, permit or otherwise authorize, with conditions, the following: (a) cultivation, processing, distribution, the safe and secure transportation, sale and possession for sale of cannabis, but only by persons and in amounts lawfully authorized. (This section provides no exemptions for medical marijuana law.)

[18] Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act): Section 11362.79: Nothing in this article shall authorize a qualified patient or person with an identification card to engage in the smoking of medical marijuana under any of the following circumstances: (a) In any place where smoking is prohibited by law.

[19] Medical marijuana exemptions: B: Purposes, 7: Ensure that if a city decides not to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis, that buying and selling cannabis within that city’s limits remain illegal, but that the city’s citizens still have the right to possess and consume small amounts except as permitted under Health and Safety Sections 11362.5 and 11362.7 through 11362.9.

[20] Proposition 215 (Compassionate Use Act): Section 11362.79: Nothing in this article shall authorize a qualified patient or person with an identification card to engage in the smoking of medical marijuana under any of the following circumstances: (a) In any place where smoking is prohibited by law.

[21] Section 11300: Personal Regulation and Controls (c) “Personal consumption” shall not include, and nothing in this Act shall permit cannabis: (ii) consumption in public or in a public place

[22] Trish Regan. “California's Emerald Triangle: Small Towns, Big Money,” CNBC Marijuana and Money Special Report. Apr. 20, 2010

[23] Steve Fainaru and William Booth. “Cartels Face an Economic Battle,” Washington Post. Oct. 7, 2009

[24] Kate McLean. “Pot: Semi-legal, Sold Everywhere,” The Bay Citizen. Jun. 5, 2010

[25] Jesse McKinley. “Don’t Call It ‘Pot’ in This Circle; It’s a Profession,” New York Times. Apr. 23, 2010

[26] Matthai Kuruvila. “IGrow: Walmart of Weed Opens in Oakland,” San Francisco Chronicle. Jan. 28, 2010

[27] Staff. “Marijuana, Inc Formerly Preachers Coffee Announces Name Change and 420 Friendly Resorts Division,” Marketwire. May 26, 2010

[28] http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/s...,1318609.shtml

[29] Michael Montgomery. “Plummeting Marijuana Prices Create a Panic in California,” National Public Radio. May 15, 2010

[30] Section 5: Amendment: Pursuant to Article 2, section 10(c) of the California Constitution, this Act may be amended either by a subsequent measure submitted to a vote of the People at a statewide election; or by statute validly passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, but only to further the purposes of the Act.

[31] John Hoeffel. “Measure to Legalize Marijuana Will be on California's November Ballot,” Los Angeles Times. Mar. 25, 2010

[32] Stu Woo. “Legal-Pot Backers Split on Timing,” Wall Street Journal. Oct. 3, 2009.

[33] “California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Underway, Aimed at 2010 Ballot,” Drug War Chronicle. Jun. 19, 2009

Read the initiative at: taxcannabis.org/index.php/pages/initiative