Prop 64 is on the ballot for November 8 and if you are wondering how you should vote, I’m going to give you the skinny on what it’s all about. Voting ‘YES’ on 64 is giving your vote for legalization of marijuana for recreational use in California. A survey conducted this past September found that Californians support P64 by about 58%, which is more than at any other time. Of course, unless supporters get to the poll, the Prop may not go through, it’s not a fait accompli.
Supporters of Prop 64 refer to it as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and use the term AUMA for shorthand. If you choose to vote ‘YES’ for P64 you are in support of legalizing recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 years or older under state law and establishing certain sales and cultivation taxes, among other things to yet be defined. Take note, that if it does pass it will take at least one to two years for most regulations to be fully ironed out and implemented.
A little background on how we got to this point. In 1996 California was the first in the nation to legalize medicinal use of marijuana. The passage of Prop 215 at that time, was exceptionally progressive for where the country stood in time. The passage of P215 was in large part due to the AIDS epidemic. People took note that cannabis helped to keep those suffering from the AIDS virus alive for longer as it helped with cachexia (wasting disease) as well as to alleviate the pain and suffering associated with the disease. The community did the right thing and rallied for Prop 215 to pass and it did.
On November 6, 2012, Colorado became the first state to pass a law that legalized recreational use of cannabis. It matters what has happened in Colorado since that time, as many view it as a template to where California is headed. The positive outcomes within Colorado have been that it has ushered in thousands of new jobs, millions of dollars in tax revenue each year, thousands have avoided criminal penalties, and the overall crime rate dropped by 10%. Good stuff.
However, opponents of Prop 64 point to Colorado as a cautionary tale. The opponents point to an increase in marijuana related traffic deaths, emergency room visits and poison center calls. Many strongly oppose legalized recreational use due to fears of childhood use and dispensaries opening near neighborhoods and schools. But note, no one has ever died of a marijuana related overdose, ever.
More recently there are numerous articles pointing to a backlash within Colorado communities. Pueblo, Colorado is an epic center of one such backlash. A town awash in scrub brush and weed, local officials welcomed the green rush with open arms. It’s brought jobs, revitalization, and a there-there to a small rural town. It also brought a serious down-and-out element according to locals, which has changed the character of their community.
A Boston Globe article highlights the downside, of one Mom’s perception of life in Pueblo “…she bristles at the potent smell of marijuana when she drives past some of the cultivation facilities. She hates that her kids’ school is near several dispensaries. She’s frustrated by the full-page ads in the local paper with huge photos of buds and coupons for $1 joints with a purchase of $20 or more. We don’t want our community identified by this anymore.”
So what may be the positive benefits of voting “YES” on Prop 64? According to the organization YES on 64 there are many. Regulation of an unregulated market will protect the everyday consumer. True. Bringing the market into a transparent marketplace similar to alcohol and tobacco will allow for tracking (aka seed to sale), regulation and the ever-important taxation. True. Revenues collected from taxes will go towards drug education, training of law enforcement, protection of small farmers (for a time), and supporting ‘economic development in communities adversely impacted by prohibition'.
There are built-ins within Prop 64 that go towards stopping large monopoly farms from taking over immediately, which is a very good thing. Without this, the small farming communities would be decimated. There is also legislation in there that indicates that illegal farming with bad environmental practices aka stealing water and pesticide run off, will be shut down. Good, I think.
Within the cannabis industry, one of the biggest reasons people seem to be in favor of Prop 64 is based on a moral issue: unjust incarceration. I think this hits home with so many within the community because so many people have either lived in fear of going to jail or have actually gone to jail.
Prop 64 allows for re sentencing of prior convictions concerning cannabis and obviously lessens any future offenses for those handling the plant. As Amanda Reiman of Drug Policy Alliance has stated, Prop 64 will “overthrow a crippled system that specifically affected minorities and set them up for an uphill battle, especially after being prosecuted on weed-related charges.”
Prop 64 in many people's minds also goes a long way towards de-stigmatizing the use of cannabis in society. This is important as 'Reefer Madness' mentality has dominated for a long time, ever since prohibition began, and was only reinforced during the Reagan years with the 'Just Say No' campaign. From both a recreational and medicinal side, the choice to use cannabis should not be something that places people within the closet. For Californians it's clear at least, it is time to come out.
So let’s give Prop 64 to you in a nutshell. Here are some of the things that Prop 64 proposes:
- If you are 21 or older, you can obtain marijuana legally for recreational use
- If you are a cultivator or plan to sell cannabis you will need a license
- There will be a 15% sales tax on recreational sales + standard sales taxes
- Local governments can add additional regulations and taxes
- There will be regulation on packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing
- Re sentencing for prior marijuana convictions and those with prior marijuana convictions will be allowed to apply for a cannabis license
- Prop 64 is meant to leave in place and strengthen the system that protects patients, the Compassionate Care Act, created after Prop 215 in 1996
- $2 million dollars per year will be earmarked towards medical research on marijuana for medical efficacy within the state
- Existing privileges of patients to possess marijuana up to one ounce of marijuana and eight grams of concentrated marijuana will be maintained
- AUMA will further protect the patients who choose to cultivate up to 6 plants at home
So, after all of this, what is my opinion? Well, I have heard so many different people with so many different opinions on how Prop 64 will ultimately play out, that it is difficult for me to say. Many insiders say something to the effect of, “We need to take baby steps, and we will fall, but eventually we will walk and then run.” My main concern is to allow government to take over and big industry to step in and run the show.
I am also wary of the notion that local governments who can further tax or regulate within their community. What I have seen to date is that most local governments are incredibly cautious and NIMB-ism (Not In My Backyard) rules the roost.
Further taxation on 15% or even 20% state taxation will lead to more black market rather than above board transparency. Research has backed up that taxation over 20% drives the cost of cannabis up so much that many patients will opt to buy from their dealer in most cases instead. My take is that most local governments have no idea of the trickle down of their decision making, which in their mind is in the best interest of the community.
I have also already seen how smaller players, that are a bit less savvy, but who have fought the fight, have been edged out. Equally so, I hear a lot about how a unionized distribution channel will take over distribution, and in a similar to how alcohol is run, within the industry. Why is this bad? Because currently, the industry mandates their own distribution for better or worse, and manufacturers are allowed to make their own choices. This does not sound like a big deal but it is not only a competitive advantage for many but also leads to significant cost savings as a consumer.
The other thing that is not talked about enough is the difference between ‘recreational’ and ‘medical’ use and what that means to the consumer. To me the terms recreational vs medical is incredibly confusing. Cannabis by and large in my mind is used by most of the population as a vehicle for health and wellness. Dividing the world into such black and white terms is problematic. Without going into too much detail, this division potentially leads to both different rates of taxation and categorization of product.
In Colorado, there is a medical side of the dispensary and a recreational side of the dispensary. The medical side has lower taxes and different products. If you enter the medical side you need a doctor’s recommendation issued by your doctor. The recreational side is open to all of legal age and the products are taxed at a much higher rate. The downside in California, if we follow this model, is that you need your doctor’s recommendation to be a medicinal patient AND after 2018 you will need to register with the state of California. Registering as a medical patient will exempt you from a 9.25% added tax.
OK, so here is where I start stamping my foot and raising a big stink. Being a medicinal patient and being required to register with the state is an infringement of privacy. For twenty years, the decision as to whether one is able to obtain cannabis legally as a medicine has been between the doctor and the patient. Period. It has been completely private.
Why in the wake of legalization should the government have the right, while cannabis is federally illegal, to know if I have a medical recommendation from my doctor? Well, they shouldn't. Oh, and they plan to charge you for the right to register, which drives up the cost for medicinal patients.
At HelloMD we have seen thousands upon thousands of patients. What’s their biggest concern? Privacy. Why? Because they are afraid of the government and law enforcement and losing their job, among many other things. The stigma of cannabis is that real.
Does the government think that by putting into effect this law they will not be driving people back into the shadows? Lastly, if we do follow the model of Colorado and medical cannabis is significantly cheaper but requires a medical rec, many people will forgo their medicine due to short term price difference in addition to the fear of being found out.
I am decidedly Anti-Prohibition, but I am also someone who does not blindly trust when so much money is at stake. Many in the industry believe that Prop 64 is the first necessary step towards a transparent and healthier system. Ultimately, the passing of Prop 64 may be the best move for society on the whole and help move our system to full legalization nationwide.