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Radical Rant: Is It Better Than Your Prohibition Now?

Russ Belville

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A very well-meaning friend of mine recently posted a picture to Facebook that was a section from the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The text explains how after AUMA passes, it will be illegal for a person aged 18 years or older to possess more than an ounce of marijuana or more than 4 grams of extracts.

“So much for so-called ‘legalization,’” went the comment from my disgusted friend, referring to the following text of the initiative:

“Persons 18 years of age or over who possess more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, or more than four grams of concentrated cannabis, or both, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than six months or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both such fine and imprisonment.”

I already knew the answer to my next question, but I asked it online to my friend anyway, in hopes that he’d see his error in logic.

“What’s the penalty for possession of over an ounce now?” I asked.

He quickly responded that the penalty now is a misdemeanor with a possible $500 fine and up to six months in jail.

“So,” I responded, “it’s the exact same penalty after AUMA passes as it is now, before AUMA passes. Nothing gets worse.”

He reacted as if he caught me in an error of logic.

“Exactly!” he replied. “How can you call it ‘legalization’ if people are still going to jail for a plant?”

My friend made the error that many die-hard tokers make when evaluating a legalization proposal. He evaluated the legalization that’s possible with the legalization he wants. I think it’s the legalization we all want—True Legalization™—no regulations on cannabis any more restrictive than regulations on beer, no discrimination against cannabis consumers and the release of all non-violent pot prisoners.

But True Legalization™ isn’t on the menu. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act is. So the proper question is not whether AUMA beats True Legalization™; no legalization proposed yet or in the foreseeable future is going to.

The proper question is whether AUMA beats the prohibition you have now.

As I explained to my online friend, the only penalty in AUMA that gets worse for tokers after it passes is the fine for public toking in a non-tobacco-smoking zone, which rises from $100 to $250. (An excellent breakdown on the before-and-after AUMA has been created by court-recognized cannabis expert Chris Conrad.)

Everything else either becomes legal, becomes less penalized or remains the same as it is now.

So why would it make any sense to tell people aged 21 and older that they shouldn’t be legal to possess an ounce and grow 6 plants at home and have stores where they can shop for weed, because anybody 18 and older who exceeds those limits will still be busted the same as they are today?

Do yourself a favor and actually take the time to read all 62 pages of AUMA. I know it’s a long, boring read; that’s why I made an easier-to-read hyperlinked and annotated version of AUMA for you.

I know my friend hadn’t taken the time to read it, because after I confronted him about the penalties becoming no worse than they are now, he pivoted to another critique about AUMA.

“You can only possess an ounce of marijuana and grow six plants,” he complained. “So when you grow more than one ounce on a plant, you’re going to jail!”

That’s not true, of course. The text of AUMA actually reads:

“[I]t shall be lawful under state and local law, and shall not be a violation of state or local law, for persons 21 years of age or older to… Possess, plant, cultivate, harvest, dry, or process not more than six living marijuana plants and possess the marijuana produced  by the plants…”

“Possess the marijuana produced by the plants” is a nicely vague reference, isn’t it?

"Son, what are you doing with these 12 pounds of marijuana in your house?" Why, officer, it is the marijuana produced by the plants. "12 pounds?" Well, officer, I grow really big plants, and I’ve had a few harvests now.

This “results of the harvest” possession limit is equal to what is allowed in Colorado and surpasses the home possession limit in Oregon (8 ounces), Washington D.C. (2 ounces) and Washington State (1 ounce).

AUMA (and, for that matter, all the CRMLAbranded legalization initiatives, too,) proposes legalization equal to or better than the states that currently have marijuana legalization.

(Photo Courtesy of Shouse Law Group)

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