Prop. 19: More Than a Nickel Bag of Opinions

Six leading OC medical-marijuana and pot-legalization advocates leave no turn unstoned in examining the ballot initiative

About the only thing anyone can agree on when it comes to Proposition 19 is that it would allow any California resident 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. Of course, that’s not all the ballot initiative would do, assuming its myriad other provisions—like the one saying people can only grow 5 square feet of pot plants or the one providing stiff jail terms to people who knowingly sell weed to kids—withstand post-electoral legislative amendments and court challenges. Depending on whom you ask, Prop. 19 would either send a powerful message to both Sacramento and Capitol Hill that the seemingly never-ending war on drugs has been an abject failure, or it would open the floodgates to a massive epidemic of marijuana use, with stoned teenagers dozing off in class and high-as-a-kite motorists creating carnage on freeways from Eureka to San Diego.

Leaving the doomsayers aside, the more interesting and important debate over Prop. 19 pits advocates of marijuana legalization and drug-war reform against folks who have a vested interest in the 1996 Compassionate Use Act (also known as Proposition 215), which famously opened the door to what’s now a burgeoning industry providing medical marijuana to anyone with a valid doctor’s recommendation. With that divide in mind, we talked to a half-dozen local legalization advocates and medical-marijuana experts to find out what they make of Prop. 19 and how they’ll vote come Nov. 2.


 

Kandice Hawes,
President of OCNORML
Few people are more passionately in favor of Prop. 19 than Hawes. The president of the Orange County chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law) first became an activist when she was arrested in 2003 and charged with felony pot possession during a road trip to Las Vegas. The bust ended the then-Cal State Fullerton student’s government-funded college scholarship. Since then, Hawes has tirelessly worked to end the government’s campaign against marijuana, a crusade she says she’s willing to continue for the rest of her life if necessary.

Kandice Hawes
President of OCNORML
John Gilhooley
Kandice Hawes President of OCNORML
Chadd McKeen
Owner of OtherSide Farms
John Gilhooley
Chadd McKeen Owner of OtherSide Farms
Sean Breen
Medical-Marijuana Doctor
John Gilhooley
Sean Breen Medical-Marijuana Doctor
Chris Glew
Attorney
John Gilhooley
Chris Glew Attorney
Jim Gray
Retired OC Superior Court Judge
John Gilhooley
Jim Gray Retired OC Superior Court Judge
Jeff Byrne
Marijuana grower
President of the Orange County Director's Alliance
John Gilhooley
Jeff Byrne Marijuana grower President of the Orange County Director's Alliance

I think Prop. 19 is the most important issue on this ballot. We haven’t had an initiative like this since 1972—and it was also called Prop. 19, coincidentally. If this doesn’t pass, we won’t have a chance like this for 20 years. We don’t have the fund-raising ability to do it again. We have this chance now. Governor [Arnold] Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill making possession of an ounce just an infraction. He did that so people won’t vote for Prop. 19.

It’s a political move. Even the Democrats are starting to watch this movement and see how it is mobilizing young people to vote, people who are possible Democrats, and they are seeing movement to do this in other states. This will keep people out of jail and save money for our state. And people in the medical-marijuana community are starting to come around and support Prop. 19. They’re worried people won’t want to get recommendations, but people will want to have more than 1 ounce, so the medical-marijuana industry will survive. It’s important for everyone to be open-minded and vote yes on Prop 19.

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Chadd McKeen,
Owner of OtherSide Farms

McKeen, who was the subject of a
Weekly cover story earlier this year (see Matt Coker’s “Growing Pains,” May 21) is one of the most opinionated voices in the medical-marijuana community. He and his wife, Alysha, both of whom are medical-marijuana patients, intended to open a dispensary in Costa Mesa; the city, however, banned such businesses. They opted instead to open a farm inside a former jewelry store, where they teach other patients how to grow their own medicine rather than pay for it, something that hasn’t exactly pleased folks who own and operate dispensaries or medical-marijuana-delivery services.

At first, I was very much for Prop. 19, and then I found out things about how it was written. There needs to be clarification on how it will affect medical marijuana. Then again, it doesn’t matter what happens in California because it’s still illegal under federal law, and that’s why you can only get a doctor’s recommendation because you can’t prescribe a Schedule 1 drug. If you go on the [Drug Enforcement Administration] website, marijuana is up there with heroin. Schedule 2 is crack cocaine, speed, ice, and I don’t care where you come from, but I think you can all agree crack and speed are not safer than marijuana. Did you know you can write a prescription for crack cocaine? Well, according to the DEA, you can. We need to remove marijuana from Schedule 1. If you can write a prescription, you can go fill it, and then marijuana can be sold legally.

Besides, Governor Schwarzenegger just decriminalized marijuana by making it just a ticket for under an ounce, so what’s the point? [Orange County Superior Court Judge] Jim Gray told me, “Chad, the bottom line is, it’s a step in the right direction; we can make changes later on.” I agree with that, but I am fearful that if it does pass, it will get completely out of control. Everyone will want to buy or grow marijuana. It won’t hurt my business; everyone will be in my class. Kids will be growing it. What works well now is that there is still a taboo on marijuana, so it is kept down low, down in your pocket. Now, people will want to smoke out, like walk out of a bar and smoke half a joint, and then throw it on the ground, and little Bobby or Jimmy will walk up and take it. People will be stealing it, jumping over fences and ripping off plants. I’m not sure which way I’m going to vote. It could come down to the wire.

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Sean Breen,
Medical-Marijuana Doctor

Based in Irvine, Breen is a former Navy Corpsman who saw combat during the Iraq war. A New York native, he moved to California specifically to establish a practice specializing in writing recommendations for medical marijuana. When he was first contacted by the
Weekly to participate in this survey, he expressed strong opposition to Prop. 19.

Is it going to be the worst thing in the world if marijuana is legalized in California? No, but if Prop. 19 didn’t leave it up to the individual cities to decide whether to allow it, it would be much better. But from a pure medical-marijuana perspective, I think you will see a lot of dispensaries and doctors go away. About 65 percent of medical-marijuana users are really recreational users anyway. From a purely selfish standpoint, I’d want to keep it illegal to have people keep going to clinics, but that’s selfish.

I called the Yes on 19 campaign yesterday and asked, “If marijuana goes legal, will medical-marijuana collectives be able to sell to anyone, or will they still require people to have doctor’s recommendations?” They couldn’t answer the question because they said it will be up to the cities to decide what to do. Is Irvine going to allow this? I see this debate going on forever until they actually have concrete laws on this. If it’s legal to drive 55 mph in California, it’s legal in the whole state; you can’t have this be legal in Oakland and illegal in Irvine.

I’ll probably vote for it, even though up until now I’ve been against it, but only because it is kind of ridiculous that you can’t come home and take a couple of hits off a pipe and go to sleep legally. But that’ll probably do our clinics in. But here’s where I am right now: I don’t care either way. I don’t smoke pot, so it doesn’t affect me. If it goes legal and clinics can’t survive, I’ll do something else.

Everybody wants marijuana to be legalized. There are no people working in dispensaries who want people arrested, but they want to feed their kids; they have spent the past five years building a medical-marijuana clientele. That’s the only reason they want to keep it the way it is. Any other reason is just bullshit.

*     *     *

Chris Glew,
Attorney

When he isn’t appearing in court on behalf of marijuana growers or smokers who’ve been arrested for possessing too much marijuana, Glew is usually there arguing on behalf of dispensary owners fighting lawsuits filed by cities seeking to ban their businesses. In his free time, he fields emergency phone calls from growers and dispensary owners being raided by police. Glew, who doesn’t smoke pot, works out of his law office in Santa Ana, Glew & Kim, and credits his busy schedule to the vagueness of current medical-marijuana laws, a problem he says may only be exacerbated by the passage of Prop. 19.

I think Prop. 19 represents an opportunity for people to express their feelings about marijuana being illegal, and it’s a good outlet for people to come out and say they are opposed to the prohibition on marijuana. I’m a tweener; I’m standing on the fence. Prop. 19 creates a lot of problems because it is another ambiguous law that will create a lot of legal controversy. The biggest issue I have is it is only legalizing possession of 1 ounce, which is now only a $100 fine, and that is a far cry from legalization. It’s a feeble attempt in the overall effort.

Right now, only medical-marijuana patients are allowed to possess a “reasonable” quantity of marijuana. Under the new law, there is a 1-ounce-possession limit that will be for recreational use only. But you often find when setting standards for amounts of marijuana possession that people will start to cite new standards, and now, conservative prosecutors and judges might start to reference 1 ounce as the limit for everyone. I’m not saying you should vote no just because it says 1 ounce, but I am leery about how it would affect medical-marijuana patients.

However, it’s hard to criticize any positive momentum, and one can only hope and pray that all legal issues from the passage or non-passage of 19 are determined in our favor. But I’m a pessimist because I’ve seen how the Compassionate Use Act has been conservatively construed in California by judges. I represent a broad spectrum of clients from collectives and growers to cancer patients and everyone in between. Ninety percent of people who ask me about the bill say it will legalize marijuana, and I say no, it will legalize just an ounce. The unfortunate consequence of that restriction is that a lot of people will find themselves out with a pound and will think they are complying with the law—to their own detriment.

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Jim Gray,
Retired OC Superior Court Judge

Perhaps the most famous drug-legalization advocate in the country who comes from a law-enforcement background, Gray spent years as a judge presiding over drug-related offenses before he came to the conclusion the war on drugs was an unqualified disaster. A former Republican, Gray ran on the Libertarian ticket for the U.S. Senate in 2004, losing to Barbara Boxer. Not surprisingly, he supports Prop. 19.

Passing Prop. 19 would send the message that we are going to regulate and control marijuana and take revenue and control away from juvenile gangs and Mexican cartels and give that power to municipalities, which will make marijuana less available to children than it is today. You can ask anyone under the age of 21, and they will tell you it’s easier for them to get marijuana than alcohol because people who sell marijuana don’t ask for identification. We will make marijuana less available.

This race is going to be close, and we’re going to need every vote we can get. I believe it is one of the most important elections of my lifetime. It will sweep the country when it passes in California and will lead to the repeal of marijuana prohibition, which has been such a complete failure. I have heard from the opposition that this will be a disaster for medical marijuana, but that’s a separate issue and has nothing to do with Prop 19. That has to do with Prop. 215.

People vote for their own economic self-interest, and people in the dispensary business know full well they will lose their business. That’s fine, but it’s not a reason for others to vote against it. The key question I have not been able to answer if Prop. 19 passes is whether my two stepsons will be out of business. Why? Because they sell medical marijuana.

*     *     *

Jeff Byrne,
Marijuana Grower, President of the Orange County Director’s Alliance

Byrne’s OCDA is a group of Costa Mesa dispensary owners, which includes recent Weekly cover-story subject and City Council candidate Sue Lester (see “The Cannabis Candidate,” Oct. 1). Earlier this year, the group filed a lawsuit against the city, which prohibits the operation of dispensaries, demanding Costa Mesa cease code-enforcement actions against its members. Unlike many medical-marijuana providers, Byrne says he plans to vote in favor of Prop. 19.

I know the recreational user is hiding in the closet. When they get in the voting booth, they will come out of the closet. I think it’s a poorly written law, and it’s just going to bring on the lawsuits, and we will sort it out in court. We’ll just have to plug forward. It doesn’t really change anybody’s way of doing business except for law enforcement and the way the state pulls in taxes. It won’t change my business or the way I am serving my patients, but it will put the cities in the position of having to do something to make sure it’s happening properly. I try not to worry about it because I have no control over it.

The only people who are against Prop. 19 are in the medical-marijuana industry and are scared of Philip Morris taking over. That’s the most foolish, myopic argument, and I hear it every day. If Philip Morris wanted cannabis to be legal, they’d make it legal. They sell poison that kills people and have no problem with that. They don’t care; they are too busy making millions of dollars on poison. It doesn’t make any sense to think Philip Morris wants in on this business.

Currently, my distribution is a closed-circuit deal of patients. Now, all of a sudden, will I be able to give it to anyone over 21 if I just swipe their driver’s license? That’s the kind of stuff we will sort out in court. But anybody who already wants cannabis can get cannabis today, right now, within half an hour. So it’s really about community control. This law puts it back on the cities to decide how the production and distribution of cannabis will be handled. Will it be a black market, or will it be regulated? Who knows?

In my gut, I think it’s going to be a landslide in favor of Prop. 19. I am going to vote yes and let it get sorted out in court. Let’s just push forward. It’s going to be a big mess—and a great windfall for the attorneys out there.

 

nschou@ocweekly.com

This article appeared in print as "The Pot Prop: Local pro-marijuana advocates remain divided on Proposition 19."

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