On November 5th, 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 with 55.6% of the vote. CA became the first state to legalize medical marijuana and Prop. 215 ushered in a new era in cannabis law reform.
Twenty years later California voters again stand poised to make history as they will be voting on Proposition 64 this Election Day. From Ballotpedia: “Proposition 64 would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults aged 21 years or older. Smoking would be permitted in a private home or at a business licensed for on-site marijuana consumption. Smoking would remain illegal while driving a vehicle, anywhere smoking tobacco is, and in all public places. Up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated marijuana would be legal to possess. However, possession on the grounds of a school, day care center, or youth center while children are present would remain illegal. An individual would be permitted to grow up to six plants within a private home, as long as the area is locked and not visible from a public place.”
Besides the normal opposition a measure like this would face, Prop. 64 is facing a massive backlash from many in the Prop. 215 community – much the way Prop. 19 did in 2010.
“Prop. 64 reduces almost every penalty for cannabis possession, use, cultivation and transportation,” Amanda Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance, told The Marijuana Times. “It also removes criminal penalties for marijuana activities committed by minors, instead giving them counseling and drug education, with their records being destroyed at age 18.”
Amanda is an ardent supporter of Prop. 64 and thinks opponents are pushing misconceptions about the measure on the public. “One [misconception] is that Prop. 64 impacts medical cannabis,” she said. “Prop. 64 protects the rights given to patients under Prop. 215, which is a defense in court if you have a recommendation. Our new medical cannabis regulations got rid of the collective defense, so regardless of whether Prop. 64 passes, patient collectives will have to obtain licenses to operate. The other is that Prop. 64 creates a monopoly and is bad for small business. Prop. 64 creates a microbusiness license that allows small players to vertically integrate under one license (think microbrew), something that is not available to those with bigger businesses. It also eliminates the requirement of a mandatory independent distributor in between each level of production as is required in our medical cannabis regulations. Instead, a business can be its own distributor, taking its wares to market.”
The Opposition from Within
One of the authors of Prop. 215, Dennis Peron, has been a vocal opponent of Prop. 64.
“They made up recreational to demonize and trivialize the people who use marijuana. People who use cannabis for medicinal uses aren’t getting high, they’re getting normal from the treatment,” Peron said. “Prop. 64 is a misrepresentation of what marijuana is primarily for, and this kind of legislation will hurt a lot of people, especially small growers and businesses who are trying to provide to their clients but can’t afford to because of the excess regulations and taxation on their products.”
“I want the voters to be aware of the situation at hand,” Peron continued. “Prop. 64 is not legalization. If it were legalizing that would imply that marijuana is illegal and it’s not. This law would mean the displacement of cannabis farms in Humboldt. It essentially empowers profit instead of people.”
Peron is far from alone in his opposition; he is joined by many in the CA medical marijuana/grower community and he is also joined by the usual suspects when it comes to keeping marijuana prohibition in place.
The Opposition from Without
Leading the charge for the prohibitionists is Kevin Sabet of Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana).
“What this is about is not adults smoking a joint in the privacy of their own home,” Sabet said of Prop. 64. “This is about the mass commercialization of marijuana by for-profit companies.
“Medical marijuana is already an industry generating huge profits…nearly three billion dollars in California last year.”
According to Sabet, for-profit marijuana will lead to big companies who lie and scheme to keep people addicted to their dangerous product. “If they want to grow a plant, if they want to get it from a friend, I don’t care, if they want to get it as a gift from somebody, I don’t care,” he said. “The point is. I don’t think the sales should be legal, because I think what that brings is another tobacco industry.”
Of course Sabet ignores the fact that cannabis is a far safer product than tobacco and has been shown to cause less dependence than caffeine. He uses the specter of “Big Tobacco” to try and scare parents away from voting on legalization even though cannabis is a completely different substance.
Sabet himself seems to be involved in some shadiness as well. Diane Goldstein, a spokesperson for the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a retired Lieutenant Commander from the Redondo Beach (CA) Police Department, recently penned an article detailing the results of a long investigation she undertook into the dealings of Sabet and his “non-profit.”
“SAM has yet to file a Federal 990 tax return since it started operating in January 2013 as a charitable nonprofit,” Goldstein writes. “There is no record of an IRS ruling granting them their 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in either Guidestar or according to the IRS.
“In April 2015 SAM ACTION filed for 501(c)(4) status, which was just granted in July of 2016 (EIN 47-368846). It’s no surprise that they also formed a political action committee and, specifically in California, they also formed a ballot measure committee named ‘A Committee Against Proposition 64 with Help from Citizens’ (FPPC ID 1387789) that has been making active donations to the opposition campaign.”
SAM receives donations from Californians for Drug Free Youth (CADFY), a charitable non-profit. “The fact that SAM Action is a 501(c)(4) means that its funders cannot take a charitable tax deduction—and though CADFY is permitted to donate to SAM, that donation must be restricted to a charitable purpose only.”
The problem is, advocating against a ballot measure is not a charitable endeavor. “In August 2015, I read with interest how CADFY, had sponsored a poll that indicated that Coloradans were experiencing buyer’s remorse. I wondered why a California organization was interested in Colorado,” Goldstein writes.
“Again, Kevin Sabet used this poll to push a message of a marijuana industry run amok—neglecting to reveal that CADFY is a fiduciary agent or fiscal sponsor of SAM, and in 2014 raised over $234,398 for his organization.”
Overcoming the Opposition
This is a lot for Prop.64 to overcome and it should come as no surprise that those who wish to keep prohibition in place are willing to go to any lengths to be successful, including the usual fear-mongering about the dangers legalization poses to children. But will they be successful and block Prop. 64?
Recent polls have shown solid majority support for Prop. 64, but polls said the same thing about Prop. 19 back in 2010 and that legalization measure ultimately went down in defeat.
“I think the chances are good [that Prop. 64 will pass],” Amanda Reiman told us. “The public does not believe that cannabis should continue to be criminalized. However, we can’t bank on success. Everyone who feels that it is time to end cannabis prohibition needs to show up and vote!”
Prop. 64 has earned a ton of endorsements from the likes of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and multiple Congressional representatives, plus groups like the ACLU of California, the California Medical Association, the California Nurses Association and the California NAACP.
“I continue to be cautiously optimistic as the endorsements reflect its broad bipartisan support among not just politicians but among the general public,” Diane Goldstein told The Marijuana Times. “We have current and former elected officials, community leaders, community organizations including public health, public safety, environmental, faith based institutions and civil society organizations that joined together with 16 newspapers that endorsed the campaign who recognize the failure of the drug war and in specific the war on marijuana.
“But I worry as well. As an example an article that I’ve written will be published in The Influence (linked above) on government resources and how opponents of legalization use taxpayer funded monies to oppose reform. In my research I found this slide show. This slide show presentation was created by the demand reduction coordinator for California High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (AREA) who vehemently opposes marijuana legalization. This slide reflected how activists voted against their own self-interest during the Proposition 19 campaign and today they continue to talk about Proposition 64 in the same fashion. Russ Belville over at WeedNews shares my opinion and has written extensively on why they are wrong. It’s disconcerting that the aptly named #stonersagainstlegalization continue to mischaracterize information no different than the cops have done for years.”
Time grows short in the state that is the biggest prize in the cannabis law reform movement.
Read Part 2 here.