Marijuana and the Golden State

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Ending Marijuana Prohibition
Medical Marijuana Regulation and Prop 215
Marijuana Laws in California: Collateral Consequences and Racial Disparities
Marijuana Science: THC, CBD, and Research

Ending Marijuana Prohibition

After the close defeat of Proposition 19 in 2010 and the success of the marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the Drug Policy Alliance is looking forward to the next opportunity to end marijuana prohibition in California, most likely 2016. DPA is committed to supporting an initiative based on research, public health and the expertise and hard work of local municipalities and the medical marijuana industry, which have been engaging in a process of regulation since Proposition 215 was passed in 1996. DPA is confident that the proposed initiative will be comprehensive and will establish a competent, community-based system to tax, regulate and control marijuana in the largest state in the country and we are excited to work with those committed to ending marijuana prohibition in California.

Medical Marijuana Regulation and Prop 215

In 1996 California became the first state to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes with the passage of DPA-sponsored Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. This groundbreaking policy has paved the way for 20 additional states, plus Washington DC, to pass their own medical marijuana laws. With support for medical marijuana at an all-time high of 80%, DPA will continue to work with states and individuals on ensuring safe access to medical marijuana by advocating for well-written, implementable medical marijuana policies.

As a result of DPA’s work, millions of Americans who suffer from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis and other serious illnesses, in California and across the country are no longer criminals under state law for using marijuana as medicine. We believe it is imperative to the protection of patients in California that the state implement a program to regulate the cultivation, processing and distribution of medical marijuana. DPA is committed to supporting the passage of such legislation in 2014.

California’s medical marijuana law is carried out on the local level via regulation by cities and counties rather through a statewide system.  In the absence of state regulation, local cities and counties throughout California have worked hard to establish regulatory structures for their medical marijuana programs. Local governments in cities such as Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco have taken a proactive approach to regulation by licensing facilities and altering their tax structures to tightly control marijuana distribution. Local governments in cities such as San Jose and Los Angeles, however, have taken a reactive approach that has led to periods of non-regulation when unregulated facilities proliferated. This proliferation is blamed, by some, for the heightened scrutiny of the state’s U.S. Attorneys over the past three years, resulting in the largest crackdown since Proposition 215 was passed. Tightly regulated cultivation programs, such as Northstone Organics in Mendocino County and dispensaries such as Berkeley Patients Group, have fallen victim to the crackdown, among concerns about proximity to schools and the size of the operations. After the federal government threatened to shut down Harborside Health Center, Oakland’s largest dispensary, the city of Oakland sued the federal government, becoming one of the first cities to fight back against the federal government on this issue. Oakland officials, such as City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, spoke out against federal interference after a raid on Oaksterdam University, a marijuana trade school in downtown Oakland. Recently, after undergoing a second attack from U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, Berkeley’s largest dispensary, Berkeley Patient’s Group, along with the city of Berkeley have decided to sue the Federal Government on the grounds that closing Berkeley Patients Group would cause undo public health and financial burden to the city. DPA’s Office of Legal Affairs is representing the city in this case.

DPA is committed to protecting patient access in California and plays an active role in a number of state and local coalitions that work with elected officials in Sacramento and Washington. (View our letter to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. DPA supports the development of a state-level medical marijuana program to ease the burden of regulation at the local level, establish clear guidelines for the cultivation and distribution of marijuana and ensure the protection of medical marijuana patients in California.

Marijuana Laws in California: Collateral Consequences and Racial Disparities

On January 1, 2011, the state of California began implementing a new law that reduced possession of small amounts of marijuana (less than one ounce) from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction, punishable by up to a $100 fine (plus fees) with no arrest or imprisonment. However, in 2012, more than 13,000 people were arrested for marijuana felonies in California. Of those, 12,000 were male; 20% were black (7% of the CA population); 37% were Latino (38% of the population); 34% were white (40% of the population); and 12.5% of those were juvenile arrests (65% under the age of 30). Racial disparities in arrests and convictions for marijuana crimes are still pervasive. Latino males age 20-29 make up the largest group of arrestees at 16%, and, in California, black people are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, twelve times more likely to go to prison with a felony marijuana charge, and three times more likely to go to prison with a marijuana possession charge.

While the removal of criminal penalties for minor marijuana possession was certainly a step in the right direction, which is reflected in the 85% decrease in marijuana misdemeanor arrests from 2010 to 2011, little is known about how infractions are being handed down and whether the racial and economic bias that existed when marijuana was an arrestable offense is still there. Net-widening commonly occurs when drug laws become less stringent – and is a potential unintended consequence of the shift from treating marijuana possession as an infraction instead of a misdemeanor. Police may actually give out more infractions for marijuana possession because they are relieved of administrative burdens and perceive infractions to be a less harsh form of punishment.

The task of bringing these data to light is currently being undertaken by the ACLU and the Drug Policy Alliance. The data made available so far do suggest that racial disparities persist despite the removal of criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Despite approximately equal rates of use across racial categories, Latinos and blacks are disproportionately cited for marijuana possession because of over-policing in low-income minority communities. For example, of the 1,929 people who received marijuana infractions in Fresno in 2011 and 2012, 52.2% were Latino, 21.3% were black, 19.3% were white, and 58% were under the age of 30. According to U.S. Census data for the city of Fresno, the city is 47% Latino, 8% black and 50% white. The troubling outcome is that black and Latino Californians are more likely to be ticketed for marijuana possession but also tend to be economically disadvantaged and are more likely to fail to pay the fine.  Those who fail to pay are charged with a misdemeanor offense, saddled with a life-long criminal record, and hindered by damaging collateral consequences such as ineligibility for college financial aid and basic social services like food stamps and public housing.

The collateral sanctions placed upon those with a marijuana conviction in California create barriers to a successful and happy life and create more destruction to the marijuana consumer than the drug itself. In California, any marijuana conviction, and sometimes even arrest only, results in a 3-year ban from public housing. A felony marijuana conviction, meanwhile, results in a lifetime ban on jury service and in a ban or reduced benefits for food stamps or TANF, which is sometimes a lifelong ban. This stipulation does not exist for robbery, kidnapping, or murder. The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to removing the collateral sanctions associated with convictions for marijuana and other drugs and to the continuing effort to address the racial disparities in drug war policing.

Marijuana Science: THC, CBD, and Research

While efforts to end marijuana prohibition outright and secure safe access to medical marijuana regulation continue, research has forged ahead seeking therapeutic and medical applications for cannabinoids, the active ingredients in marijuana. While THC is the most well-known cannabinoid, scientists have discovered at least 80 others, most of which are not psychoactive, but are highly therapeutic.  The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research was established through the University of California, San Diego in 2000 and conducted the first randomized clinical trials of smoked marijuana in the United States in 20 years. After conducting six such studies, the scientists concluded, “we now have reasonable evidence that cannabis is a promising treatment in selected pain syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system, and possibly for painful muscle spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.” These results were delivered to the federal government in 2010. However, marijuana remains a schedule I drug with no accepted medical value. Recently, eighteen members of Congress called on President Obama to reschedule marijuana. Although the President stated that he believes marijuana is no worse than alcohol, he was reluctant to make any statements about rescheduling, instead passing the buck to Congress.

One cannabinoid that is making huge news is Cannabidiol, or CBD. This non-psychoactive cannabinoid has been very effective at treating a wide range of symptoms and ailments. However, it is now most often connected with treating Gravet’s Syndrome, a form of childhood epilepsy that results in countless seizures. Dr. Sanjay Gupta did a special on medical marijuana this year, and met with parents who are using marijuana for this purpose. A clinical trial will begin to test CBD for this purpose at the University of California, San Francisco.

Recently, a study was published indicating that the cannabinoid THC might slow or stop the progression of HIV. These important findings make it imperative that research in humans with the entire marijuana plant be supported. DPA is committed to breaking down barriers for marijuana research.

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