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November 1, 2010

What To Make of California's Proposition 19

As many around the country are casting their votes "Democrat" or "Republican", voters in California will have a chance to make history by putting in their vote on whether or not to legalize marijuana use for those 21 and older.  Proposition 19, also known as the "Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010," if passed, would make California the first state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis since it was outlawed in the United States in 1937.  Although the prospect of marijuana legalization may sound like a dream come true to many pot smokers, many marijuana enthusiasts, dispensary owners, and legalization proponents have stated that they are against California's Proposition 19, saying that it may very well be a step backward in the movement to legalize marijuana.

Those in favor of Proposition 19 argue that it would help with California's budget shortfall, eliminate a large portion of funding to violent drug cartels, and redirect law enforcement resources to more dangerous crimes, while opponents claim that the proposition contains flaws that may have serious unintended consequences.  Even if the proposition is passed, the sale of marijuana will remain illegal under federal law because of the Controlled Substances Act.

Based on what you hear from mainstream media outlets, you'd think this measure would fully legalize marijuana use, but in fact, the proposition will put restrictions where there are none currently in place, such as reversing freedoms users now enjoy under Proposition 215 and paving the way for the marijuana industry to fall under big-corporate control, thus eliminating the niche for small-time marijuana farmers and dispensaries.

What is legalized under Prop. 19 is people 21 and over are permitted to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, use it in non-public places (mainly their home) and public places licensed for on site marijuana consumption, and grow marijuana at a private residence in a space up to 25 sq. ft.  Currently, due to a recent law signed by the Governator, there is only a $100 fine in place for possession under an ounce, and patients with a medical marijuana prescription are able to purchase marijuana from locally regulated collectives and dispensaries and individually grow up to 12 plants.

Under Prop 19, a person 21 years or older who gives or sells marijuana of any amount to a minor could face steep jail time, up to a $1000 fine, and get banned from marijuana dispensaries for a specified time period.  Under current law, the penalty for a gift of marijuana of one ounce or less is a $100 fine. Proposition 19 also criminalizes users smoking in the presence of minors, even in the privacy of their own homes.  This is different than the current law under Proposition 215, where users are able to smoke in their homes or any place where smoking is allowed as long as they have their prescription, regardless of minors being present.

Another concern users have with Proposition 19 are the restrictions it would place on marijuana cooperatives and collectives which Proposition 215 enables.  Under Proposition 19, only those who secure an expensive and hard to obtain license from their locality would be permitted to distribute marijuana.  The small-time marijuana growers and sellers who currently profit under Proposition 215 would no longer be able to sell without obtaining locally issued licenses and permits.  Many in the marijuana industry worry that under Proposition 19, the small-time growers and distributors would be pushed out and replaced with large corporations, effectively destroying the industry many have built over the medical marijuana years, and paving the way for big corporations such as Phillip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to reign the territory.  Other concerns of marijuana activists include problems related to excessive government control over the industry such as over-regulation, permitted genetic manipulation and patenting of seeds and strains (watch The Future Food and apply it to pot), and the possible banning of hash, concentrates, edibles, and other THC products.

Despite the problems with Prop 19, it would be revolutionary to see people vote to legalize marijuana in our day and age, mainly because the criminalization of its use is a historic tragedy spawned in corruption (see Jack Herer's The Emporer Wears No Clothes).  Even if the proposition does not pass, there is another legalization initiative in the works, the California Hemp and Health Initiative, which is already seeking signatures for inclusion on the 2012 ballot.  The proposed 2012 initiative claims to remedy many of the shortcomings that Proposition 19 creates and was even approved by the late Jack "the Hemporer" Hererwho at first opposed the passage of Proposition 19 (but since his death is stated to support it).  Many marijuana legalization proponents believe that if Proposition 19 passes, this new initiative will not have a chance in 2012.

Some reports indicate that supporters of Prop 19 have donated two times that of their opponents in order to secure their desired outcome in the November 2nd vote.   The donations for the "vote yes" campaign have come in large part from groups associated with Oakersterdam, the herbalist college in Oakland founded by Richard Lee.  Funding for the "No" campaign has come primarily from police and prosecutor associations (big surprise).  According to records filed with the California Secretary of State, the California Beer & Beverage Distributors has also contributed some money to oppose the marijuana legalization proposition.  With a new poll indicating that support for the legalization vote continuing to drop, it will be interesting to see how it all plays out when voters make their way to the polls.

Regardless of the outcome of this year's vote, hopefully the stereotypical apathy of the pot culture, cultivated and maintained by anti-legalization profiteers, will be a position of the past, and this vote will be a first step in the legalization of cannabis throughout the country.