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California Votes on Prop 64
Peter Cervieri access_time 12 min read

On Tuesday, November 8th, California voters will cast the vote heard around the world.

No, not whether to elect Hillary Clinton or the raging fecal matter throwing narcissist that is Donald Drumpf. Rather, whether to legalize recreational use of Marijuana in California, the world’s sixth largest economy.  Prop 64, on Tuesday’s ballot, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, has been hotly debated within the California cannabis community.

Looking for some light bathroom reading? Read all 62 pages of Prop 64.

A “yes” vote is a powerful statement to the rest of the world that the US has changed our stance on the global war on drugs.

Reuters reported that Mexican president Enrique Pena said if Prop 64 passes, Mexico will follow suite.

It is believed that many Latin American countries will follow the example set by California. Currently, marijuana is only legal in Uruguay. Latin American countries have faced unbelievable damage due to the US led war on drugs over the past three decades. Countries have feared that deviating from the US stance on the global drug war would lead to retaliation by the DEA and CIA, as well as economic sanctions by the world’s largest economy, a powerful deterrent.  But if California legalizes, central and south american countries that have been ravaged by the war on drugs will no longer feel compelled to tow the company line, so to speak, for fear of US reprisal.

For Californians, the devil is in the details. The bill is not just a simple vote for legalizing recreational marijuana. It also sets into law the beginnings of how legalization is regulated and rolled out and the mechanisms for adjusting those regulations down the road.

Those within the cannabis community opposed to Prop 64 fear that the bill sets into motion a land grab for large, well funded interests to dominate and take over the California cannabis industry. They also see a government hellbent on squeezing every last tax dollar out of anyone who touches cannabis, whether for medical or recreational use.

Those within the cannabis community who support Prop 64 admit that while not perfect, no bill is, it provides a foundation to build and improve on. They argue that AUMA does offer protections to medical marijuana patients who currently have access to cannabis under MCRSA and California’s current medical marijuana laws, serves the interests of small growers, and, most importantly, protects people of color who are disproportionately harassed by law enforcement for cannabis use today.

Adult Use of Marijuana Act 01 – Panel Intro and Discussion

Adult Use of Marijuana Act 02 – Audience Q&A

I spoke to representatives of various associations to understand what aspects of Prop 64 are most relevant to them and their constituents, whether Prop 64 addresses those concerns, and whether they generally support, oppose, or are neutral on Prop 64.

The California Growers Association (CGA) membership is equally divided on whether to support Prop 64. The CGA itself is neutral on Prop 64.

The primary consideration for the association is how any proposed laws affect the tens of thousands of small cottage growers represented by the CGA.

The CGA members are the ones being raided and incarcerated, so ensuring that its members can do business legally is important to ending incarceration. 

The CGA is concerned primarily with any laws that lead, intentionally or not, to consolidation in the California cannabis industry, whereby only a few large organizations can legally grow because of limited licenses, red tape, high taxes on small cultivators or other high startup costs such as licensing fees. The CGA wants broad participation in the future of California cannabis cultivation for medical and recreational use.

This reminds me of a conversation I had at the local farmers market where a vendor told me they grow their produce organically but don’t have organic labelling because they would have to hire a full time administrative person just to deal with the paperwork required for organic certification. Large companies can afford such costs.

The CGA is also concerned about taxes levied at the cultivation level. Why not just tax the finished product when they go to market as is the case with pretty much every other agricultural commodity? Don’t tax the raw material going into the manufacturing process. Tax the manufactured product coming out of the process.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) supports Prop 64. The DPA focuses on three issues. First, mass incarceration – impacting sentencing reform, the number of people that go to jail for drugs, why they go to jail. Second, harm reduction – overdose prevention such as overdoses with prescription opiates. Third, cannabis reform. Connecting all three areas are issues related to racial and social justice.

When the DPA looks at legalization in California, they look at people getting in trouble for possession of marijuana, and to prevent the ramifications of having a drug related criminal record as it pertains to work and life opportunities down the line. People of color don’t smoke or sell marijuana any more proportionally than white people, but people of color statistically make up the vast majority of drug related arrests and incarceration. An arrest at age 18 will haunt someone for the rest of their lives when, for example, looking for work.

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is on the Prop. 64 campaign board and supports Prop 64.

MPP’s mission is to end marijuana prohibition and replace it with regulations marijuana similar to alcohol. MPP’s ultimate goal is to end prohibition at the federal level and let states decide how to regulate marijuana, just as they do with alcohol.

For MPP, Proposition 64 is a much needed step forward for California. It tosses out marijuana prohibition, establishing a system of taxation and regulation for marijuana intended for non-medical use.

California NORML (CalNORML) supports Prop 64, with reservations, recognizing it does have some limitations and defects that will need addressing.

 CalNORML analysis is posted at the Drug Policy Forum of California website:

 Big pluses:  

(1) legalizing adult use and cultivation for personal use

(2) Reducing all of the most commone  marijuana felonies to misdemeanors and allowing prior offenders to fix their records.

(3) Sending a powerful message to the nation and world that marijuana should be legal

Concerns:  Overtaxation, especially of medical patients;  failure to secure patients’ and users’ rights to employment, housing, etc.;  excessive regulation of consumption and vaporization on private property;  danger of legacy providers being forced out of the market by large-scale corporate interests ( but this is already a danger under MMRSA).

League of California Cities is neutral on Prop 64. It’s membership is fairly divided on the issue.

The reaction of cities runs the gamut. This includes everything from allowing and robustly regulating such businesses, to banning them outright. Some jurisdictions have recently moved to ban outdoor commercial cultivation, due to public safety and nuisance concerns. Others are preparing ordinances to regulate and to tax commercial recreational marijuana businesses of various kinds.

Generally, everyone I spoke to agrees that social justice for people of color will improve if Prop 64 is passed.

People still go to jail for Marijuana. Cops use odor to get into people’s cars. Marijuana possession is a catalyst for involvement with the criminal justice system. Currently, cops can decide whether to charge someone with possession or with possession with intent to sell. Black people are 5x more likely to get a felony – possession with intent to sell – rather than just possession, which is a ticket. Marijuana is a tool to search and go after people for other things, to make them empty their pockets and show the cops what else is in their pocket. If cops find money in your pocket, they can say you’re selling. Cops love this tool where they can smell weed and ask for someone’s license. Public consumption is a ticket to harass.  There are systemic racial disparities. Legalizing marijuana will not stop the police from being racist. But Prop 64 gives people protections.

For white people, Marijuana is legal. For people of color, it’s not legal. African Americans make up 25% of the Oakland population, but 77% of those who get citations for cannabis.

In the past 10 years in California, there were 500,000 felony arrests for marijuana. It’s not just you go to jail, pay your time, and get out. Every job you apply for, bank loan, housing application, you have to talk about that felony. You are at risk of not getting that benefit. It affects you and your kids. Every day people are getting in trouble and losing the opportunity to move on with their life.

In 2011, Marijuana went from a misdemeanor to an infraction. 2/3 of misdemeanors are to minors before they even leave high school. Prop 64 eliminates jail time for minors and replaces misdemeanors for minors with education and counseling. The records are destroyed at age 18.

It costs a lot of money to jail people.  People will be able to petition to get their sentences reduced and get their records expunged. The burden will be on the state to prove that what you were doing was illegal while you were doing it. For example, if you were arrested 10 years ago for growing 10 plants, which is felony cultivation, and go to get your record expunged, it will be up to the state to prove that you had more than 6 plants, rather than you having to prove that you had less than 6 plants.  Given that 6 plants is legal, chances are you’ll get that expunged. 

For medical marijuana patients, I’m not so sure Prop 64 is all that great. Through Prop 215, passed in 1996, and subsequent laws and updates, such as MCRSA, those who want to use medical marijuana as an alternative to pharmaceutical drugs can do so without fear. Prop 64, though for recreational marijuana use, taxes to medical marijuana users with new taxes. It also restricts where people can take their medicine. I don’t really see any additional benefits for medical marijuana users.

Beginning in Jan, 2018, all marijuana will be subject to an additional 15% excise tax plus a $9.25/ounce cultivation tax. Patients with state ID cards are exempt from the current 7.5+% sales tax (effective immediately), but not from the excise or cultivation taxes. Taxes on cultivators will invariably be passed on to end users.

Jason Kinney, a spokesperson for Yes on 64, said, “While we respect the need for access by medical marijuana patients, the experience of other states has overwhelmingly demonstrated the need to tax medical and non-medical marijuana at roughly the same rate to eliminate the incentive for people who are not legitimate medical marijuana patients to remain in the medical marijuana system following decriminalization.”

Kinney said the additional percentage being paid through the new 15% tax would be offset by the decline in retail price that experts are predicting for marijuana after legalization.

My interpretation of the above statement is, loosely,  “in our obsession to collect every last tax dollar possible, we’d rather screw medical patients by making them pay a tax than god forbid someone who doesn’t have a legitimate medical condition get a medical card to avoid paying all the taxes that we want to impose on the recreational market.” 

Furthermore, if we all agree that cannabis is a medicine, and that overall wholesale prices will go down as new cultivators / suppliers come onto the market, couldn’t the price paid by patients be EVEN LOWER if they enjoyed wholesale price decreases through increased supply AND didn’t have to pay taxes or pay pass-through taxes imposed on cultivators?

Anyway, I would love to hear your thoughts on the effect on medical patients, among others.

I tried to look at Prop 64 from the perspective of various constituents:

  • a 22 year old black guy in LA who is not in the industry but just wants to enjoy a joint;
  • a 70 year old medical marijuana patient who relies on her social security check to pay her monthly bills;
  • a small outdoor Yolo County grower who has done everything he can to follow the rules, get all the appropriate permits, and grow in an environmentally friendly way;
  • a city / town / county official who wants to make sure the local population has a say in how new laws affect the community;
  • a citizen of that same town who doesn’t smoke;
  • local and state law enforcement who will have to enforce whatever new legislation is approved;
  • a well funded, politically connected, operator who sees opportunity to build huge billion dollar global brands;
  • a small business owner who just wants to make great edibles for the California market;
  • and so on and so forth…

auma california prop 64