Across the Great Divide

Proposition 19 planted the seeds for questions and disagreements

 

By Paul Rogers

 

With Proposition 19 trailing in the polls at press time, one thing that is certain noted was that the issue of recreational marijuana use in California had aroused great passion among cannabis supporters who fought aggressively for it and against it. For example, the California Cannabis Association (a coalition of medical marijuana dispensaries) opposed the bill.

There was much confusion, division and questions over the purported pros and cons of The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.

Whether you voted for or against it, what is clear is that the proposition was regarded as a boon for the cannabis cause by some and decried as negative by others. What everyone can agree on is that there was confusion and disagreement over whether the proposition spelled good or bad things.

Like many things, it just depends on who you ask.

One of the bones of contention was that the proposition allows cities and counties to opt out of its implementation, which some say would have made marijuana less available to Californians—including those who need it for medical purposes—than it was before.

“This proposition will have a negative effect on our patients and will legally allow cities and counties to ban/close access to patients in their own communities,” said Lanette Davies, a spokesperson for Crusaders for Patients Rights, several days before Election Day. Some of the most vulnerable patients—those whose medical conditions and/or finances limit their ability to travel to other jurisdictions—could be most affected.

“The initiative very clearly states, if you read the text, that it doesn’t take away any of the existing protections that patients have under propositions 215 and SB420, so those concerns aren’t founded,” counters Tom Angell, media relations director for Yes on Prop. 19. “Local control and decision making is one of the bedrocks of our democracy . . . so we think it’s best to let locally-elected officials decide what’s going to work best for their own communities.”

Also, while it’s estimated that legalizing marijuana in California would bring in more than $1 billion in taxes annually, as Prop. 19 would have allowed counties and cities to create their own taxation and regulatory schemes, it does nothing to ease the state’s budget crisis. But taxation is not the only way in which Prop. 19 could have swelled Cali’s coffers, says Angell. “First of all, we’re taking away marijuana arrests for possessing less than an ounce, so that’s undoubtedly going to save money—[there were] 60,000 marijuana arrests in California in 2008, so that all adds up.”

Angell also feels that, as forward-thinking localities start enjoying this proposed taxation windfall, others will take note and follow suit, so the positive effects on local budgets would eventually be felt statewide. “We’ve never said that this is an immediate, all-encompassing fix for the state’s budget problem, but it’s definitely going to help,” he says.

Those who had opposed the initiative took issue with the fact that the ballot measure would only legalize “not more than one ounce” (for possession, processing, sharing or transportation, solely for the individual’s personal consumption), pointing out that this currently only carries a $100 fine and an infraction anyway. Plus, Prop. 19 would only have protected people over the age of 21 from prosecution.

Details and unanswered questions remain.

“What are we going to give up so that some might not have a $100 fine?” Davies wondered. “(a) Prison, jail and fines for those under 21 that share; (b) Unlimited taxation and fees … [And] what about patients under 21? They have the right to obtain a doctor’s [recommendation], but do they have the legal right to purchase [under Prop. 19]? I don’t see it protected anywhere. Will parents be subjected to criminal charges for obtaining cannabis for a minor?”

The “one ounce rule,” for example, raised questions. Prop. 19 would have allowed marijuana cultivation for personal consumption of up to “twenty-five feet per private residence,” but the moment a person harvests (assuming their plot yielded over an ounce) they’d be breaking the law.

One final curve-ball to ponder: Steve Cooley. He was staunchly anti-pot as district attorney for L.A. County and viewed dispensaries as Public Enemy No. 1. Had he been in the Attorney General’s office, marijuana (for medical or recreational use) would have likely faced a much, much bigger threat.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

Besides California, two other states this month cast their votes for and against medical marijuana initiatives.

ARIZONA

Proposition 203 failed.

SOUTH DAKOTA

Measure 13 failed.

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