"If Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump don't succeed in motivating our youth to vote, perhaps Proposition 64 will," said Terri Carbaugh, the head of government and media relations at Cal State University Long Beach, as she opened the Prop 64 (AUMA) debate last night. The purpose of the debate, as Carbaugh pointed out, is to help the youth formulate an opinion in order to make an educated vote on November 8th. As she wrapped up her introductory comments, she played a clip from That '70s Show in which the sitcom parodies Reefer Madness. "This is a reminder of how far we've come, and to get us ready for tonight's debate," she said, as she handed over the mic to moderator, Tom Bray of Southern California News Group.
Unlike last week's AUMA panel held by Raul Quezada, Anaheim's Police Chief, last night's debate at CSULB was engaging and offered a far more balanced (and juicy) discussion on the arguments for and against Prop 64. On the panel for AUMA was Greg Akili, a long time civil rights activist who's dedicated his life racial and social justice; Diane Goldstein, the executive board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP); and Stefan Borst-Censullo, a Long Beach based attorney who's with Hoban Law Group—one of the nation's first cannabis law firms. The panelists arguing against Prop 64 were Andrew Acosta, a veteran political consultant and key figure in the "No on 64" campaign; and Marc Greenberg, a former federal prosecutor.
Although those in favor of AUMA outweighed those against, it wasn't planned to be this way. Lauren Michaels, one of the anti-Prop 64 panelists (who also happened to be a part of Quezada's anti-marijuana troop last week) was unable to attend due to a family emergency. Even with three out of five panelists in favor of Prop 64, however, the debate was informative and exactly what people need in order to understand the politics of cannabis legalization.
The first question Bray presented to the panel focused on whether AUMA implements "sufficient safeguards" to make sure children won't use cannabis if recreational use becomes legal. "Prop. 64 imposes strict controls on the regulations of adult consumption and builds on the regulatory structure of the medical marijuana regulations that were passed and will be implemented in January 2018," argued Goldstein. "We have abdicated control to cartels and people who don't have the best interest of our children, like the street corner drug dealer. This is no different than alcohol or tobacco regulation: There's going to be strict regulatory measures that we're going to be able to enforce."
Goldstein added that Prop 64 will help drive cartels out of the marijuana industry while also providing "funding to set up youth education prevention programs and on demand drug treatment."
Acosta instantly replied after Goldstein saying, "Prop 64 is a 62-page manual that changes or adds a hundred laws to the books, so it's not just the concept of legalization. Be sure you know that before voting on it." He went on to say that his friend, Professor Stanton Glantz from the University of San Francisco is an expert on tobacco and analyzed Prop 64. His findings, Acosta explained, were that if Prop 64 was a tobacco initiative a lot of things wouldn't fly, like the fact that cannabis industry folk make up the majority of advisory councils under AUMA. He also pointed out the lack of specificity in advertising to kids, making it nearly impossible to keep marijuana away from them. "This initiative allows advertising to kids... It's a way for the industry to make money."
Acosta then brought up Weedmaps' involvement in the initiative and explained that, from his perspective, they have no other interest in legalizing recreational marijuana aside from making money, which should say something to voters. "The guy who started Weedmaps has said that he wants to be the Phillip Morris of pot," he said. "There's nothing wrong with making money, but let's at least be honest about what the initiative is going to set off."
The debate became heated over the issue of allowing 18-year-olds access to medical marijuana, which Greenberg explains is allowing children access to cannabis because their brains are still developing. Almost every panelist was talking over each other; and Greenberg was so animated that he stood up from his seat and argued his point. Bray, chimed in trying to get the panelists to calm down, but the panelists were going at it. The packed auditorium of 200 spectators cheered as tensions rose on stage.
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Greg Akili denied that AUMA would make it easier for children to access marijuana, as legalization opponents have argued. If you want to scare people, this is exactly what you do: You say that children are going to have access to it," he said. "This is going to function on a regulation standpoint similarly to alcohol. No body would allow children under 18 access to marijuana."
The second half of the debate switched from discussing Prop 64 to the local medical marijuana measures that Long Beach will see on the ballot: Measures MM and MA. Measure MM provides the regulatory framework for cannabis, including how many dispensaries will be allowed in Long Beach and how far they need to be from residential neighborhoods and schools. The city, however, felt that the taxes of Measure MM wouldn't be enough revenue for the Long Beach, so they created Measure MA, which is meant to replace Measure MM's tax section. In other words, Measure MA can't go into effect without Measure MM succeeding at the polls.
Borst-Censullo, the Long Beach cannabis attorney, advocated for MM saying that it wouldn't create a new industry, rather it would regulate one that's already in existence. Greenberg, the former federal prosecutor, argued against the measure, again, arguing that it would help enable children to gain access to marijuana.
Unlike Quezada's marijuana panel, which featured two hours of boring, spoon-fed propaganda, last night's debate kept the audience interested and wanting more. "This is so much better than the educational version you get in class," a CSULB student sitting behind me told his friend. "Yeah, for sure. This is awesome," his friend replied. One can imagine that that nobody had that reaction to Quezada's panel.