Prop 64 includes stronger safeguards for children than other states
In 2010, Californians voted against an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana. Ironically, however, that proposition’s failure paved the way for legal pot use in other states.
“It came close (in 2010) and created a level of confidence,” said Jason Kinney, spokesman for Proposition 64, the latest ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana in California.
Now supporters in California say it is time to try for legalization again, with Proposition 64 crafted to correct mistakes made by other states and put the Golden State’s unique stamp on the endeavor.
Proposition 64 would allow adults 21 and over to grow up to six plants and possess one ounce of marijuana without fear of prosecution by the state.
Although California is not the first to legalize recreational marijuana, it is home to the largest cannabis industry in the country. California first dipped its toes into the murky waters of medical cannabis 20 years ago.
“We are not a legal state, and yet we have the largest industry,” Kinney said, adding that the goal of the initiative is not to grow the, but to bring it into compliance and conformity.
In addition, Prop 64 is intended to help ease the hold Mexican drug cartels have on California markets, providing safer products for medical and recreational users and diverting tax revenues to educational, environmental and law enforcement programs.
Richard Miadich, a lawyer at Olson Hagel and Fishburn and one of the initiative’s authors, says the main goal of Prop 64 is to make recreational marijuana safe, and have gone through great lengths to do so.
“Other states, I don’t think have gone to the lengths we have gone to,” Miadich said.
The authors of Prop 64 went through an intensive process, holding public meetings and studying all the other states’ programs to learn from their mistakes. Colorado started its recreational marijuana initiative with a meager 10-pages of guidelines, immediately leading to confusion about who, how and where the products could be sold. Maidich says California has a 62 page document that is both comprehensive and flexible.
Whereas Colorado earmarked revenues for diverse purposes, including school construction, all California cannabis tax funds will go to address various aspects of a recreational marijuana market. California cannabis tax revenues would be divvied into three separate pots: education, law enforcement and environment.
Education would comprise the largest portion, and would be concentrated on schools with the highest dropout rates. Funding would also be available for youth homelessness.
Also, funding for environmental protection and restoration would address cannabis growing issues such as illegal water diversion, repair of land harmed by illegal growing, environmental protection and restoration.
Finally, law enforcement would receive funding to train officers in the detection of driving under the influence of marijuana, which is not as easy to test for as alcohol. Grants would also be available to police agencies for costs associated with the program. For example, if a municipality required funding for a program to ensure residents were complying with the portion of the law that allows up to six plants, it could apply for a grant.
The proposition also requires a “seed to sale” tracking program. Miadich says this tracking will help prevent diversion of the product out of state as well as ensuring it has been tested for safety and purity.
California learned from the mistakes of other states. For example, Washington initially decided to tax the recreational, but not the medical product. Miadich says that pushed most people into the medical program.
California decided to charge a 15 percent excise tax on both medical and recreational products, but state sales tax would be waived for medical patients who hold an ID card (which not all medical marijuana users have)
An important attribute of the proposition is that it remains open to revision, and was crafted in such a way to facilitate revision as the program moved forward.
Paul Armantano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws or NORML, compared the process to regulation of alcohol sales and consumption.
When alcohol prohibition was repealed in 1933, the process of regulating sales and consumption didn’t end that year, or even in 10 years.
“We’re still changing and tinkering with alcohol regulations,” he said, noting some of the different policies of recreational marijuana unique to each state.
“It’s a real world experiment,” Armantano said. “We’re seeing it in other states: this works, this doesn’t work. California’s language is clearly a result of this learning process.”
Employees at some Sacramento medical cannabis dispensaries said they didn’t think the initiative would substantially increase their business, but they thought the care put into crafting the California legislation would be beneficial for everyone.
Through its long medical marijuana history, California dispensaries have forged a good working relationship with legislators, said Kimberly Cargile, director of Alternative Therapies.
It wasn’t always that way, she added. It took time and patience to create a productive dialog, she said.
“I think it’s good we just passed state regulations for medical cannabis,” she said. “It helps pave the way for recreational to be regulated – the regulations are in place – I think it should be a pretty smooth transition.”
Cargile said that relationship should keep the lines of communication open between retailers and the legislature as issues arise and need to be addressed.
“We have a large group of wonderful small farmers who provide us with product,” she said.
Cargile, who is a medical marijuana patient, had opportunity to partake of products in those states, and although she was grateful for their availability without a medical marijuana card.
“The one thing I noticed was we have much higher quality in California,” she said.
Of course not everyone appreciates the detail Prop 46 goes into to pave the way to legalize the marijuana, which still carries a stigma for many people.
Some groups, including many law enforcement agencies, oppose the initiative on the grounds that it will lead to more traffic fatalities, be a “gateway drug” to other harmful substances and entice children to use marijuana products. These groups oppose Proposition 64 despite the measures put in place to combat abuse and use by children. They regard any marijuana use as potentially harmful, and oppose legalization.