I spent the Valentine’s weekend in the Bay Area covering the International Cannabis Business Conference. There, I got the chance to interview numerous California marijuana activists, a California congressman and a California movie star about the pending Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), the 2016 legalization initiative backed by billionaire Sean Parker and major national legalization groups.
Throughout my discussions with the people opposing the legalization initiative, one common theme keeps coming up. It’s something articulated to me by Attorney Bill Panzer when he said, “If you’re going to sell it as legalization, it ought to be legalization, not just [decriminalization].”
The core of this argument is that the AUMA is not legalization because, as Ed Rosenthal told me, “There are criminal penalties.”
I pressed him, asking, “More criminal penalties?”
He responded with a strong, “Criminal penalties, people will still go to jail!”
I pressed again, replying, “But people are going to jail now.”
He retorted, “Yes, and more people will go to jail under this initiative!”
Is this really all the opponents of AUMA have to go on… that it doesn’t legalize enough?
When someone is talking to you about a legalization initiative and asking you to vote against it, keep in mind this one simple question: What are the penalties now?
Rosenthal dismissed the fact that the AUMA will legalize the possession of one ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six cannabis plants. While one ounce is decriminalized in California, cultivating even one cannabis plant is currently a felony.
So, clearly, the people currently going to jail for one-to-six plants gardens won’t be going to jail. I’m having trouble imagining how more people would go to jail, especially since Colorado’s legalization of one ounce and six plants led to an 80 percent reduction in the overall number of criminal charges filed for all marijuana law violations in the state.
Yeah, with “just” one ounce and six plants, four-out-of-five people who were getting charged with weed crimes aren’t anymore. I’m betting it turns out roughly the same in California.
The problem with Panzer’s quibbling about the proper name for the process this initiative begins for ending prohibition in California is that it just doesn’t matter what you call it. Call it “legalization,” call it “decriminalization,” call it “tax and regulate,” whatever.
The important thing is whether or not it reduces calls from cannabis consumers to bail bondsmen and defense lawyers. AUMA will certainly do that.
“But California should do it better,” I’ve heard. Really? There has been medical marijuana in the state for nearly two decades now. There have been numerous marijuana millionaires minted in the state’s green rush.
How is it they never pooled their money together to get this better legalization that California’s so ready for?
Oh, right, one of them did and many of these same opponents of legalization today pilloried him with the same scares—a 25 square foot garden isn’t enough, an ounce isn’t enough, he’s just trying to corner the market for his rich friends, they warned us about Prop 19 in 2010, promising that the True Legalization™ was just around the corner in 2012.
“But nobody goes to jail for having too much beer,” is another common rejoinder, buttressing Panzer’s “it’s just decriminalization” argument. True enough, you can buy keg after keg of beer without limits.
That’s where the True Legalization™ rests—it’s not legalization because there are still regulations on possession and cultivation that, if violated, will put someone in jail.
But that’s the case now!
We’re all for True Legalization™ in the sense that we all think nobody should go to jail for a plant. If you’re polling me, it’s all the weed you wish to possess and cultivate, it’s legal for everyone 18 and older and no employer or government can discriminate against you because you use it.
But you need the votes of 50 percent of Californians, too, and they are not ready for True Legalization™. Put it in front of them too soon, and it loses, which mean prohibition wins. With AUMA, we have a chance to move away from prohibition.
And that’s the key—legalization is a process that leads to freedom, not an instantaneous realization of freedom. You don’t get to choose between the legalization that makes the ballot and the legalization you want. You get to choose between the legalization that makes the ballot and the prohibition you currently have.
(Photo Courtesy of MarijuanaStocks.com)