The state of California has a history of being a “progress leader” — an entity that favors or advocates change, reform or the advancement of new or experimental methods and ideas. However, the current political overlords are going to damage the spirit of progressive leadership if they ignore certain truths about cannabis legalization. Why support legalization? Because it is a step away from the racist War on Drugs and a step in the right direction.
Before addressing the various legalization initiatives and regulatory bills for the cannabis industry, it is important to understand the background of this burgeoning legal industry.
Americans are increasingly repulsed by the brutality and inequality exhibited under the guise of the War on Drugs. Recent ACLU studies show that people of color are more than twice as likely to be imprisoned for drugs as white Americans even though drug use between the two groups is the same.
In her book “The New Jim Crow,” Michele Alexander explored the racism ingrained in the War on Drugs. In the United States, 2.2 million people are in custody. This is a 500% increase over the past 30 years. Americans generally agree with Alexander: mass incarceration is the way back to slavery (or, is actually a form of slavery depending on your perspective). Alexander noted that more American men of color are imprisoned now than were slaves in the days before the Civil War.
Making criminals out of drug users is a prescription for people of color to be detained by law enforcement at an increased rate, more arrests, more convictions, and imprisoned more than white folks doing the same thing. The immorality of the Drug War has corrupted American democracy.
Californians can continue to dismantle the “New Jim Crow” machine by legalizing cannabis in 2016. However, there are a few undeniable truths that need to be embraced by all stakeholders in California’s legalization movement. The corporate suits are looking for their place in this multi-billion dollar industry, but they do not understand the science behind cannabis cultivation. The farmers understand the science behind cannabis cultivation, but are tight-lipped about their knowledge due to the effects of prohibition, not the least of which is the threat of incarceration.
Legalization will provide a way for marijuana businesses to go mainstream —specifically, allowing them access to banks, the creation of appellation and protection of marijuana seed cultivars. The farmers also tend to believe that the corporate suits are trying to squeeze them out of the very industry they created. These initiatives intend to protect, and regulate small distributors, backyard growers, commercial distributors, medicinal marijuana collectives and processors of topicals, concentrates and edibles. Not only do these initiatives legalize adult use of marijuana, they seek to create a cannabis commission that will issue licenses, assess taxes, inspect production of food products and purity of smokables.
The marijuana industry will join all the other agricultural endeavors that have made our state so rich. Given that marijuana is a plant, let’s set a framework for analyzing the state bills and initiatives.
– Water use and cannabis cultivation: Water use is the big elephant in the room when it comes to discussions about the cultivation of cannabis. Recent news and information seeks to blame the cannabis industry by concluding that its cultivation is a significant contributor to the water shortage problems in the state. This is not true (see more on this subject on Page 90). We need scientific data based on actual water usage prior to enacting restrictive legislation based on politics. This will require the government and the cultivators to work together in order to share information about water usage and cannabis cultivation.
– Legislation based on a wide range of cannabis consumers: A majority of the legislative schemes being discussed in California are primarily focused on the regulation of brick and mortar dispensaries. The truth is that cannabis consumers run the socio-economic gamut — from the dispossessed to the doctor, from the stay-at-home dad to professional athletes. Not all consumers of the plant access their cannabis in the same manner. Even after 19 years of medical marijuana in California, there are still people who refuse to step foot in a dispensary. The regulations need to take into account cannabis-based business models that target consumers who want to access cannabis without walking into a brick and mortar establishment. All the initiatives mentioned herein provide for the regulation and protection of small growers, backyard growers and small distributors. The proposed initiatives will legalize marijuana delivery business models.
– Small business owners: State and local permit fees should be priced such that small business owners are not priced out of the market. For example, under the Marijuana Control and Legalization Comprehensive Revenue Act (written by Jason Bennet, Gilbert Canedo and Dege Contee, et al), an “artisan cultivator” who makes less than $500,000 from the sales of marijuana in one year would pay an annual fee of $1,000. Artisan cultivators whose crops fail could petition to be reimbursed. A person who realized more than $500,000 per year from marijuana sales would pay a commercial license fee of $10,000. Compassionate-use medicinal marijuana providers would not pay a license fee but would have to prove that one-quarter of their cannabis is given away free and one-quarter of their marijuana is sold at cost. People who want to sell marijuana and consume it on site would pay a $500 annual registration fee.
– Education: Every legalization initiative should contain requirements for state-sponsored educational campaigns and programs to re-educate the populace about cannabis. The propaganda machine of the past 50-plus years was successful in convincing people that cannabis is the “devil’s weed.” The truth is that science proves otherwise. Education is key to the successful repositioning of this plant into mainstream American culture. The California Craft Cannabis Initiative (written by Heather Burke and Omar Figueroa) provides that some money collected should be spent on lobbying the federal government to reschedule marijuana.
– Financing options: There should be no impediments to equity financing for cannabis businesses. Both the Craft Initiative and the Marijuana Control Initiative provide for unfettered access to financial institutions for all phases of the marijuana industry.
There are many more truths that need to be highlighted, but let’s begin with these five truths and analyze the cannabis reform legislation currently pending in California.
ANALYSIS OF BILLS & INITIATIVES
With the numerous reform bills and initiatives currently pending, it is important that the voting public understand the respective purpose of each bill/initiative and their impact on the future of legalization in the state.
There are 11 assembly bills addressing some aspect of cannabis access and/or regulation, as well as four different state initiatives
California Assembly bills
– AB 243: Indoor and outdoor medical cannabis cultivation;
– AB 258: Medical cannabis and organ transplants;
– AB 266: Medical cannabis regulation and licensing;
– AB 821: Exemption of sales and use taxes for terminally ill patients;
– AB 849: Cannabinoid extraction and explosions.
California Senate bills
– SB 140: Electronic cigarettes;
– SB 165: Civil penalties related to cultivation;
– SB 212: Manufacturing concentrated cannabis;
– SB 303: Destruction of seized cannabis and cannabis plants
– SB 305: Enhanced sentences for manufacturing concentrated cannabis;
– SB 643: Medical cannabis regulation
- The Compassionate and Sensible Access Act
- The California Craft Cannabis Initiative
- California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2016
- Marijuana Control Legalization and Revenue Act of 2016
A Field Poll conducted in December 2014 showed that 55% of Californians favor legalization of marijuana. Those numbers will only go up if California voters exercise their franchise. Every person who consumes cannabis must register to vote — and vote for legalization. Every person who opposes the racist War on Drugs and mass incarceration of people of color should vote for legalization.
Cannabis legalization is the first step in deconstructing the police state. We are on the verge of legislating a new truth, a new freedom and new possibilities. There is no downside to legalization. Legalization means greater freedom, freedom to use cannabis recreationally, freedom from detention and arrest for marijuana possession, cultivation, transportation and sales.
Every person who is not detained, searched, arrested and convicted of a cannabis crime is one less prisoner, one less jail cell filled, one less daddy or mommy or son or daughter to be visited in jail. That’s one less felony convict trying to get a job, one less drug test to be taken, one less intrusive drug search to be endured. It’s one less person who loses their right to federal housing due to a state drug conviction, one less person to face losing their children just because they use marijuana, one less person who is deported because of a drug arrest.
Kyndra Miller is a business law and civil litigation attorney, with an emphasis in cannabis business law, in California. Nedra Ruiz is a criminal defense attorney at Pier 5 Law Offices in San Francisco, California.