Supporters of Proposition 64 Hope Voters Will End California's Reefer Madness

Supporters of Proposition 64 Hope Voters Will End California's Reefer Madness
Bob Aul

The stigma plaguing the cannabis plant ever since the 1936 release of Reefer Madness is all but over. The most recent evidence? As of last week, polls show that 58 percent of California voters support Proposition 64, or the Adult Use Marijuana Act (AUMA)—the statewide initiative that, if passed this November, will legalize the recreational use of marijuana for everyone at least 21 years old in California.

But California is hard to predict when it comes to pot legalization. In 2010, 54 percent of voters rejected Proposition 19, the last cannabis-legalization measure. And according to Diane Goldstein, an executive board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an unlikely coalition of law-enforcement brass and medical-marijuana groups including the Stoners Against Legalization still opposes AUMA.

If Prop. 64 passes, legal adults will be allowed to possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana, 8 grams of concentrated cannabis or edibles, and up to six living cannabis plants. The proposal will also place a 15 percent tax on the sale of marijuana products. But don't confuse AUMA with the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), formerly known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The MCRSA is the comprehensive state licensing system for the commercial cultivation, manufacture, retail sale, transportation, distribution, delivery and testing of medical cannabis.

"AUMA builds on the infrastructure of [MCRSA] legislation passed about a year ago for medical-marijuana regulation," says Goldstein. "One of the reasons they did a recreational measure so close to the MCRSA is because it's cheaper, more efficient and easier to build a system for adult and medical marijuana regulation at the same time—but they are very different."

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The state has said it will need until January 2018 to set up the necessary structures to begin issuing licenses for both medical- and adult-use cannabis businesses. In the interim, however, local governments have been given the opportunity to choose whether to adopt ordinances to permit or ban such businesses in preparation for state licensing.

Although rolling cannabis bans have been the trend across Orange County over the past year, several cities have decided to put measures on their local ballots. Costa Mesa residents, for instance, will see three medical-marijuana initiatives on their ballots—two of which are citizen-supported initiatives, and the other a city-approved measure. All three prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from working in dispensaries or purchasing medical marijuana, and all employees are required to pass a background check.

Measure W would amend the Costa Mesa municipal code to authorize up to four licensed medical-marijuana businesses in the city, allowing the cultivation, distribution or delivery of medical marijuana. Such businesses would be allowed to operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. seven days per week and will be required to be at least 1,000 feet away from any school and 600 feet from public parks, libraries or any licensed childcare facility. They'll also need to be at least 200 feet away from residential zones and can't be located within 1,000 feet of any other medical-marijuana business.

Costa Mesa's Measure V, on the other hand, would allow up to eight medical-marijuana businesses to operate within the city. They could engage in retail sales, planting, cultivation, harvesting, transferring, manufacturing, processing, preparing, storing and packing of medical marijuana. These facilities are allowed to operate in specific commercial and industrial zones, but not in residential zones. Hours of operation will be from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week. Cannabis businesses must be at least 600 feet away from public schools and can't be within 1,000 feet of another medical-marijuana business.

Measure X is Costa Mesa's city-sponsored medical-marijuana measure. It would amend city codes to allow medical marijuana distributing, manufacturing, processing and transporting businesses, as well as for testing labs to enhance research standards and the development of cannabis. However, retail sales or distribution of medical marijuana and related products would be prohibited, along with dispensaries and cultivation sites.

Meanwhile, Long Beach will see a pair of initiatives competing on the November ballot, both of which would permit between 26 and 32 medical cannabis storefronts to operate, with similar geographic restrictions as those envisioned in Costa Mesa. Where the Long Beach initiatives differ from each other, however, is on the issue of taxation. Measure MM, known as the Regulation of Medical Marijuana Businesses, would change the 10 percent rate on gross receipts of cannabis sales to 6 percent. The tax for cultivation would reduce from $50 per square foot to $10 per square foot.

The Long Beach City Council opposes MM because it believes the city would lose money, so officials wrote up their own tax initiative, Measure MA, also known as the Long Beach Marijuana Taxation Measure. Under MA, the tax on medical-marijuana products would be between 8 percent and 12 percent of gross receipts; between 6 percent and 8 percent for distributing, transporting or testing marijuana and related products; and add a cultivation tax between $12 per square foot and $15 per square foot. The city has calculated that MA would provide Long Beach with $13 million in additional tax revenue.

The fact that Prop. 64 will do nothing to force cities to allow dispensaries to operate in cities that have banned them is just one of the criticisms some longtime medical-marijuana supporters have about the initiative. Activist Ron Deziel argues that AUMA has "hijacked" Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. "The rights of personal cultivation, privacy in choice of doctor, and safe and affordable access cannot be abrogated by the legislature, yet that is exactly what's going to happen," Deziel says.

But legalization advocates such as Goldstein counter that Prop. 64 is a crucial step forward in ending the illicit black market that continues to plague California, which badly needs the revenue the initiative will create. During the first five years of legal recreational marijuana, California will earn $10 million, she says, which would go to communities that have been impacted by the disparities of law enforcement around the issue of the drug war.

After that time, $50 million annually will go to these communities, she adds, neighborhoods that are predominantly communities of color, and will help to create jobs, infrastructure, training and other programs. "[AUMA] has the gold-standard social-justice component to it, and people often don't know that," says Goldstein. "[It] isn't perfect, but it leaves lots of open space for improvement."

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