Do Not Delay: Implement Marijuana Legalization in California

March 22, 2017 - By Lynne Lyman

On time and intact implementation of California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is critical to realizing the benefits of legalization and reducing the harms from decades of prohibition that have resulted in the mass incarceration and criminalization of low-income people of color, and utterly failed to protect public health and public safety.

Efficient implementation of Prop. 64 is urgent. While Prop. 64 legalized possession and consumption of cannabis products for adults 21 and over, there is still no legal source to obtain it, except for patients with a doctor’s recommendation, or grow at home (six plants per household).

There should be no delay in creating a system that guarantees California consumers access to products free of contaminants, clearly labeled for potency, and that bear warning labels and childproof packages as mandated by the voters’ initiative. Further, it is urgent to begin the taxation of cannabis products to pay for community reinvestment, drug prevention and substance use disorder treatment, youth programming, road safety, environmental remediation, consumer protection and other vitally needed services—all of which will be receiving a collective $1 billion per year once licensing is fully implemented.

Any efforts to roll back the sentencing reforms, to create new forms of discrimination or additional penalties for activities that are now legal, to limit community reinvestment, or to create barriers to economic participation by persons with limited capital or prior criminal justice records would undermine the basic fairness of Prop. 64, and reinforce the historical and institutional racism of the war on drugs.

It is disappointing to see many in the California State Legislature taking steps to do just this. Federal and state data demonstrate that whites, Latinos, and Blacks sell and use drugs at similar rates, but that Black people and Latinos have borne the brunt of arrest, prosecution, incarceration and the lifetime collateral consequences of felony convictions, including statutory limits on licensure and ownership in various fields. Prop. 64 implementation must avoid further codification of these forms of institutional racism.

While power grabs over regulatory provisions and food fights over the revenue ensue in Sacramento, DPA will continue to insist that Prop. 64 be implemented as written and mandated by a wide margin of California voters. DPA is working to ensure an inclusionary framework that opens up access for women and communities of color, including affordable licenses for micro-businesses and small businesses, equal licensure opportunity for people with prior drug convictions, preventing new forms of discrimination and penalties associated with legalized activity, and immediate implementation of the penalty reduction provisions, both retroactively and under current law enforcement practice.

We also remain deeply concerned by the overreach of local ordinances, many of which outright ban commercial activity—which they can lawfully do, along with severely restricting the right to home grow—which is legally more nuanced. We believe that efforts to assign high registration fees per plant and requiring inspectors to regularly visit your home to “inspect” your plants and growing area is a violation of basic privacy rights and civil liberties. We expect to see those cities in court.

And perhaps most frightening, we must now protect Prop. 64 from federal intervention and continue to protect patient access to medical marijuana. DPA is working with legislators to pass a bill to protect Californians who are operating lawfully under our state laws by providing that absent a court order, local and state agencies, including regulators and law enforcement, shall not assist in any federal enforcement against state authorized medical cannabis or commercial or noncommercial marijuana activity.

The prior federal administration provided assurances that if California developed a robust regulatory and enforcement system for medical or personal marijuana use by adults, California residents who complied with state laws and regulations would have a reasonable expectation that they would not be subject to harassment, arrest or incarceration by the federal government. However, the new administration has given mixed signals on enforcement priorities, but made it clear they do not want to end marijuana prohibition.

The good news is that the criminal penalty reductions that went into effect on November 9, 2016, are being applied to all new cases coming into the courts all over the state. And in LA County, the public defender’s office has already identified over 200 people eligible for resentencing for a marijuana charge, and DPA has been partnering with community organization to hold legal clinics for formerly incarcerated people to get their records changed. Detailed guides and information about record reclassification and resentencing can be found at www.myprop64.org.

The work to end prohibition and its disastrous effects on our communities did not end last November. Prop. 64 implementation is incredibly challenging, complex, and demanding. We hope the nearly eight million Californians who voted #Yeson64, and our allies across the nation, are ready to stand with us to protect and defend our victory.

Lynne Lyman is the California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

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