If California is the fulcrum upon which legalization balances, the scales were tipped in our favor last week when the state’s residents voted to approve Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Many provisions of California’s new law went into effect the day after the initiative passed. Adults over the age of 21 are now permitted to possess, transport, share, and cultivate cannabis, within established limits. Furthermore, marijuana-related offenses, e.g. possession of an amount that exceeds the legal threshold, have been reduced to misdemeanor status, and past criminal charges involving cannabis can be expunged or downgraded. Other policies, such as taxed and regulated sales of cannabis through licensed retail outlets, will be effective as of January 2018.
The bigger picture
The impact of legalization in California – a state with the largest population in the country and the sixth largest economy in the world – is huge. Advocates think that this move will put cannabis policy front and center on the national agenda, due to the sheer number of Congressional representatives hailing from the Golden State.
And even if it doesn’t immediately lead to the end of prohibition, it does help secure the status of regulated states in a tricky time. “Given the outcome of the Presidential election and the uncertainty about national policies going forward, the passage of Prop. 64 places a huge wedge between the legal states and any attempt to shut them down at the federal level,” Amanda Reiman told Splimm.
Regulation is better
Reiman, Manager of Marijuana Law and Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance – a major funder and supporter of Proposition 64 – is also uniquely qualified to assess the impact of policy on people and families. Her background in social work and public health research gives her a broad and insightful perspective on the relationships between individuals and their environments.
She does not equivocate when it comes to the benefits of regulation for children and families: “Under prohibition, the public and regulators have no control over who grows and sells marijuana, where that occurs and who is allowed access. Under regulation, we get to control every aspect of the industry, including youth access.” Endorsed by California Medical Association and the California Academy of Preventive Medicine, Proposition 64 establishes strict policies around the licensing of cannabis operations and safety requirements such as testing, labeling, and childproof packaging.
We can look to other states to see that these factors typically reduce the rate of underage consumption. “Right now, if we sent 50 teens into Golden Gate Park with $50 and asked them to buy marijuana, almost every one of them would be successful,” Reiman speculates. “A recent study in Colorado sent underage decoys to marijuana stores to see if they could successfully purchase. Ninety-nine percent were not able to purchase marijuana in a licensed store.”
Protections for children & families
Proposition 64 also builds in specific protections for families: a person’s medical cannabis patient status cannot be used as sole grounds to remove custodial rights. Moreover, the new policy treats crimes committed by minors as infractions, whereas children used to face the same charges as adults. “We do not think we should be saddling young people with felony charges, which carry with them a lifetime of barriers to achieving economic stability,” Reiman says.
Writers of Proposition 64 were equally committed to social justice reform. Unlike in many states, where a prior drug felony prevents participation in the legal industry, California’s law does not draw this distinction. It even goes so far as to establish a significant grants fund that will support communities most negatively affected by the drug war. According to Reiman, “Prop. 64 goes further than other states in the progressive nature of the criminal justice reforms within the initiative.”
Changing hearts and minds
And while California represents a major milestone in drug policy reform, Reiman cautions us to remain vigilant: “After this election, we are going to have to work even harder to continue our success. Many states do not have the initiative process which means we have to pass legalization through the legislature, a cheaper but often more difficult task. Of the states that do have the initiative process and have not legalized, many are not very supportive of marijuana, meaning we have to change hearts and minds before we can change policies.”
That’s where we come in, Splimm community. Let’s get started.