Prop. 64 and legalizing marijuana

marijuna-caIn 1964, Lowell Eggemeier walked into the San Francisco Hall of Justice, lit a marijuana cigarette, took a long draw, and blew the smoke directly into the face of an officer. This act, known today as the puff-in, was the first recorded action in the effort to legalize marijuana in California.

Eggemeier declared to the hall that he was starting a campaign to legalize marijuana and that he came to be arrested. The San Francisco Police Department indulged this request, and he was convicted of a felony for possession of marijuana.

The effort to legalize recreational marijuana in the state of California has come a long way since the 60s. This November it will be on the ballot in the form of California Proposition 64. 

This ballot initiative comes from former San Francisco mayor and sitting California Lieutenant Governor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom is admonished by some as a radical and vaunted by others as a visionary. In fact, legalizing marijuana would not even approach the most radical victory for Newsom. As the mayor of San Francisco, Newsom used an executive order to legalize same-sex marriage. However, Newsom does not have the same executive power when it comes to legalizing marijuana. The matter will come down to a simple yes or no referendum with the citizens of California. 

Proposition overview

Prop. 64 would allow for the legal consumption, sale, and cultivation of marijuana flowers, edibles, and concentrates in the state of California.

Under this initiative, only a certain number of state-licensed vendors would be allowed to sell marijuana, and only adults over the age of 21 would be allowed to buy it. Marijuana would face the same restrictions as tobacco in terms of where it can be consumed. All sales of marijuana would face a mandatory state tax of 15 percent, with the option for counties and municipalities to tack on their own extra taxes on top of that.

Opponents of the bill raise legitimate concerns about keeping cannabis away from children, keeping users from driving stoned, and where the revenue from taxing marijuana would go.

Prop. 64 raises many other questions. Many of them are addressed in the dense 66-page text of the initiative.

Marijuana products  have a specific definiton in Prop. 64.

“Marijuana that has undergone a process whereby the plant material has been transformed into a concentrate, including, but not limited to, concentrated cannabis, or an edible or topical product containing marijuana or concentrated cannabis and other ingredients,” proposition 64 stated.

Restrictions on product labeling and advertising

The proposition could also regulate how marijuana products should be labeled. Products will be labeled with phrasing and notices including the words “not a food item” and “cannabis product,”  as well as “keep away from children.” Prop. 64 would also prohibit the disguising of marijuana products to look like children’s candy. This means popular edibles, such as marijuana-infused Sour Patch Kids, will not be legal to sell.

A company’s ability to broadcast advertisements on certain channels and during certain times will also be prohibited by the proposition.

“Broadcast, cable, radio, print, and digital communications shall only be displayed where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by reliable, up-to-date audience composition data,” Prop. 64 stated.

Prop. 64 would also prohibit the giving away of cannabis products as a part of a business promotion.

Current California regulations

In the state of California, marijuana use is decriminalized, and violators face only a $100 fine for possession of less than 28 grams of marijuana. The Compassionate Care Act of 1996 legalized medical marijuana. This began when cancer and AIDS patients were given marijuana to ease the side effects of intensive treatments, but today, there are dozens of disorders, as common as migraines, insomnia, or anxiety, for which one can be issued a medical marijuana license, or card.

Today, there are even doctors who offer remote services, charging $40-$50 to evaluate the patient over Skype before issuing them a medical card. Most green doctors, as they are called,  do not require any form of documentation for the malady that the patient is describing. A green doctor who wished to remain anonymous told The USD Vista he sees a lot of young smokers come into his office.

“It’s not rare that I’ll have groups of 18-year-old stoners in my office, who all happen to suffer from extreme anxiety of course, looking for a medical card.” The doctor said.

The doctor explained that he did not turn them away, despite not meeting illness regulations.

“No,” the doctor said. “Why would I? Of course it’s a joke; everyone knows it should just be legal.”

Smoking and driving

Marijuana could be legal in the coming months, but it still won’t be calling shotgun anytime soon. While it might accompany people at the park, the mall, their room or elsewhere, it won’t be making any debuts in the car. Prop. 64 comes complete with a breathalyzer test for cannabis.

Driving while stoned, or under the influence of marijuana, can slow one’s reaction time and impair focus, causing an increase in the likelihood of an accident. As part of Prop 64, California police would become equipped with Tetrahydrocannabinol, (THC) breathalyzers, a state of the art technology set to be released within a year.

THC is the active chemical in marijuana that produces the high. THC breathalyzers will be able to detect if a driver has an unsafe level of THC in his or her system.

Prop. 64 would allow stoned drivers to be prosecuted the same as drunk drivers. It is already illegal to drive stoned, but patrol officers in California are not currently equipped to detect stoned driving. With the help of tax revenue from the sale of marijuana, THC breathalyzer would be added to every control car. The initiative further guarantees at least $3 million be annually allocated to the California Highway Patrol in order to detect and prevent stoned driving.

Growing marijuana

The individual production of cannabis will not be prohibited, even if a specific city or county decides to ban cannabis businesses if Prop. 64 passes. Individuals 21 or older would be allowed to cultivate up to six plants for personal use. Local governments could ban the individual growth of plants outside but could not ban the growth inside private property.

Allocation of revenue

On top of the non-negotiable state tax of 15 percent, and an undetermined level of city and county tax on the sale of marijuana, cultivation will be taxed at $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. Prop. 64 discusses the breakdown of this possible tax revenue: 

– $2 million per year to the Uuniversity of California San Diego Center for Medical Cannabis Research to study medical marijuana.

– $10 million per year for 11 years for public California universities to research and evaluate the implementation and impact of Prop. 64.

– $3 million annually for five years to the Department of the California Highway Patrol for developing protocols to determine whether a vehicle driver is impaired due to marijuana consumption.

– $10 million, increasing each year by $10 million until settling at $50 million in 2022, for grants to local health departments and community-based nonprofits supporting job placement, mental health treatments and many other resources for helping  local communitie s affected by past drug policies.

The remaining revenue would be distributed as follows:

– 60 percent for youth programs geared toward drug education, prevention, and treatment.

– 20 percent to prevent and alleviate environmental damage from illegal marijuana producers.

– 20 percent for programs designed to reduce driving under the influence of marijuana and a grant program designed to reduce negative impacts on health or safety resulting from the proposition.

Student reaction

USD sophomore John Preciado agreed that Prop 64 should be passed.

“For the Californian people, voting yes on Prop. 64 is a no-brainer,” Preciado said. “The economic and cultural benefits of the legalization of recreational marijuana far outweighs the downsides. With a state as large and influential as California, this election can set a precedent for other states to follow in the coming years.”

USD senior Connor Stearns believed that the revenue from tax on marijuana can help community programs.

“With the dramatic increase in California’s budget deficit, the legalization of marijuana would provide more revenue for underfunded social programs like state parks, infrastructure, and public education,” Stearns said.

Preciado, Stearns, and Newsom seem to agree about the importance of the precedent this initiative can set.

Some USD students also oppose the measure. Senior Ian Minzer does not support legalization on the grounds that he believes it will make marijuana too easy for children to accidentally consume, and he is concerned about the health risks that go along with accidental exposure to marijuana for minors. Minzer is haunted by first-hand experiences in hospitals as a pre-med student when he witnessed the ramifications of accidental exposure.

California is facing a complicated vote in November. California voters must decide if the benefits of allowing marijuana to be fully integrated and accepted into our society outweigh the consequences of doing so. Supporters will shout tax revenue while opposers will shout gateway drug. In less than a month, we will see which side of the fence the state falls on.

Written by Jared Sclar, Contributing Editor