“Legalization” seems to be the word on everybody’s minds these days. Celebrities from Willie Nelson to Lindsay Lohan are taking Proposition 19’s place on the ballots to be a symbolic victory for the green coast. Even the Dude abides, lest we forget Jeff Bridges’ endorsement of the campaign.
As a liberal Californian, I must admit the word has been on my mind as well, and for a while Prop. 19 seemed like a viable avenue. That was until I started asking myself, “How much weed could I actually get?”
Under Prop. 19, just one ounce. Prop. 19 would effectively legalize possession of up to 28 grams, a quantity that is now only a simple civil infraction anyway. With Senate Bill 1449, signed just three weeks ago, possession of one ounce or less won’t get you arrested, won’t take you to court, and won’t stay on your record. So thanks Richard Lee, but are you really improving things much?
The full legal right to possess one ounce of marijuana would seem like a baby step in the right direction, if not for the new marijuana-related felonies the bill also introduces. Under Prop. 19, smoking in front of a person under the age of 21 – an easy mistake in college – could get you arrested. Pass a joint to that person and you can get hit with six months in prison as well. If that person is under 18, take seven years. It’s a good thing I don’t smoke with freshmen.
But why should our government continue to criminalize weed? What is even more disturbing is that Prop. 19 would allow them to do so under the guise of “legalization.” Prop. 19 may legalize possession in small quantities, but it would illegalize casual aspects of stonerdom with severe consequences. One small step for stoner voter, one massive leap backwards for stonerkind.
In addition to defining new felonies around marijuana, Prop. 19 would restrict the free market trade of cannabis by imposing a maximum five-foot by five-foot growing area for private growers, likely a plot to drive up the costs. “Five by five is not enough,” Dennis Peron argues in a YouTube statement supporting The California Cannabis Initiative, a proposed bill that did not make this year’s ballots. He adds, “We need the Central Valley.”
Peron is the co-author of The Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215), the 1996 law that legalized cannabis for medical purposes in California. “[Prop 215] was very loosely worded,” he explains in his YouTube statement. “It was loosely worded for a reason. I wrote it [so] that there is no age limit, because kids get cancer. I wrote it [so] that there is no minimum amount of plants, because you may want to grow it one year and not another year … and stash it … There were no restrictions on where to grow it.”
Conversely, Prop. 19 would limit the amount and location of growth, and subsequently establish criminal charges for violations on each front. On the one hand, these regulations might sound like a step toward marijuana legitimization; on the other hand, any “legitimacy” Prop. 19 offers depends upon more criminalization around the marijuana trade, with some enormous penalties; it’s a good thing I only have two hands, otherwise I could go on forever about marijuana criminalization’s blatant restrictions on our civil liberties. But the bottom line is that rather than eliminate any weed-related crimes, Prop. 19 would actually create more crimes around the trade, and only send more good guys to prison. Increased criminal enforcement would be costly, and even when you factor in the cannabis tax revenue, we’re barely breaking even.
Legalization is a must, and lobbyists and economists are eager to exploit this need. But as responsible voters it is our job to read the fine print and make sure we know the strings attached. We must ask ourselves if Prop. 19 provides real legalization.
Prop. 19 would spare us the minor infraction charge we might otherwise accrue with up to one ounce of cannabis. But is this tiny benefit worth the myriad restrictions on how we may grow and consume? Importantly, is it worth the establishment of more marijuana-related felonies? Prop. 19 would undoubtedly turn more cannabis users into criminals. Let’s not fall for this one.
Maybe Californians are too caught up in the symbolism of the word “legalization” to see how excessive judicial involvement in marijuana actually undermines the cause. But think about the impact of these restrictions on the 420 movement, and do what you can to keep police out of marijuana laws. Support initiatives that would provide relief and not further penalize proponents of ganja. But vote NO on Prop 19.