PROPOSITION 64: HISTORY IN THE MAKING
On Thursday, March 1, there was a very important, not to say historic meeting at Ukiah’s Conference Center in Mendocino County regarding Proposition 64. State Senator Mike McGuire and Assembly Member Jim Wood joined for a Committee Meeting of the Joint Hearing Senate Governance and Finance and Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee. I encourage you to download and watch or listen to this hearing through this link.
For Nikki and I, discretion took the better part of valor. For fear of being snowed out, we were extremely sorry not to be able to attend the meeting. It had started snowing on our farm at 3p. By 11p, just when we would have been driving back home, we’d already received six inches of snow in our meadow. Who knows how much build-up there was at the top of our hill? Very reluctantly, I decided, at my age, I did not need to risk another adventure on snow-packed dirt roads.
Fortunately, we were able listen to the entire meeting on the Senate Website. We came away very proud of the articulate passion with which various members of our Cannabis Community spoke. In the course of the public comment, all of the points that I might have raised were well addressed by various speakers. More and more, members of the cannabis community are beginning to speak out.
Various panel members raised important issues, particularly Sonoma County Agriculture Commissioner, Tony Linegar. Tony stated that cannabis, by any definition is an agricultural crop. As such, he sees no reason for it to be regulated differently than any other AG crop.
The meeting revealed what many in the community have long understood. Quite simply it is this: elected State officials, County officials and the regulatory agents which support them have begun to realize that the new law, in place for only 60 days, is not working. And I mean seriously not working, especially for the small farmer, the small manufacturer and the small retailer.
At the meeting, the officials did not have any ready answers. They did claim they heard our concerns and promised to return to Sacramento to work on changes to the law and the regulations. Let’s hope these officials can do something to salvage a disaster in the making.
Quite significantly, regulators are finally asking us, the cannabis community, for guidance and input. Finally, we are at the table. It is about time, since government prejudice and ineptitude could kill the goose that lays the golden egg, to the tune of an estimated $15 billion a year industry in California alone. For comparison, revenue generated by cannabis in California is three times that of the state’s next largest agricultural industry, dairy.
This is a good segue to Part II of the process of legalization in the State and the country.
RECENT HISTORICAL EVENTS THAT LED TO CALIFORNIA’S CURRENT PROPOSITION 64
In 2014, Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational use. Also that year, a bill written by the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities was introduced. The measure was so draconian and anti-cannabis in nature, that the growers of Mendocino and Humboldt finally came out of the woods to organize and stop it. Thankfully, the combined forces of various county organizations along with NORML, ASA, CGA (at the time called Emerald Growers Association), CCIA, DPA and others prevented the bill from getting out of committee for a vote.
But, the prohibitive bill served as a warning to Emerald Triangle growers and manufacturers. We had to organize and get ready to defend our interests in Sacramento and at the county level. Beginning in January of 2015, new bills were bound to be introduced. The real issue then became: Would the farmers and manufacturers have any input on the laws and the rules as they were being made?
In January 2015, Humboldt County passed a fairly comprehensive medical-use ordinance, which went into effect in 2016. By October, 2015 with a fair amount of input from the growers, the California State Legislature passed a landmark medical cannabis bill detailing 17-Types of cannabis enterprise, which were somewhat based on the actual nature of the pre-existing cannabis industry. If it had to happen, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act didn’t seem to be too, too bad and the categories by and large made sense. (MMRSA became MCRSA when the legislature changed the word “marijuana” to the more scientific “cannabis”, in Jan. 2016).
Then, Mother Nature stepped in. The drought, running from 2011 through 2015, was the driest period in California since record keeping began. Given the length and severity of the drought, the implementation of strict water rules was inevitable. The State Water Resource Control Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife seemed to want to blame the drought on the cannabis growers cultivating in the mountains near the headwaters. Consequently, in 2015, as part of MCRSA, the Legislature passed AB 243 sponsored by Jim Wood, Nor-Cal’s Assembly Member, which instructed these Agencies to tighten their control over the State’s water supply and water quality, especially for cannabis cultivation. If rain had not come early in the fall of 2016, it is entirely possible that Proposition 64 for Adult Use Marijuana would not have passed.
I have been told there is a saying in politics: “If you are not at the table, you are on the table getting carved up.” The other stakeholders at the table are the ones with the real power: Big Ag, Tobacco, Big Pharma, the Police Chiefs, the League of Cities, the Alcohol distributors, the Teamsters and Service Workers Unions, and let’s not forget the Environmentalists. All of these, of course, have their profit projections and political agendas. They see a multi-billion dollar industry ripe for the taking, or they see a tax bonanza or they see environmental degradation gone wild.
But cannabis growers have never been at the table before. Most of the people who grow the plants or make the products are struggling just to get by, barely having the time to get to the many frequent meetings, most of which are miles from their farms. Certainly, they cannot afford high-priced lobbyists. From 2014 to the present and into the future, on the County and City level as well as on the State, it has been a non-stop fight over every law, every ordinance, every rule or regulation, over every word or even its definition, to try and get a fair shake for the small farmer and home manufacturer.
Now, we come to the Adult Use Marijuana Act of 2016 making recreational cannabis legal. I supported this referendum mostly because I felt it was really about time for California to get it done. Further, if we hadn’t passed Prop. 64, it would have sent a negative message to the other states and to the world.
It seems clear to me that the legislative passage of a comprehensive medicinal Cannabis law (MCRSA) and voter approval of Proposition 64 (AUMA), helped spur many other states to consider cannabis laws. Of course, scientifically, one can only claim correlation for this phenomenon not causation. Nevertheless, the combined effect of the MCRSA and AUMA has been profound. Since 2015, seven states have legalized medical or recreational use and in 2018, there are active campaigns or ballot measures in eleven more states. Internationally since 2015, seventeen countries, including Mexico, have either decriminalized or approved medical and scientific use. Canada could well have national recreational legalization by July 2018. [For a detailed analysis of the several states laws see the report from ASA: Medical Marijuana Access in the United States: A Patient-Focused Analysis of the Patchwork of State Laws.
Given all the forces against us, AUMA (Proposition 64) based on MCRSA, seemed to be good enough, partly because it included a clause allowing it be amended by the legislature. Of course, I didn’t like the taxes part, but we can’t avoid taxes. We just want them to be reasonable and fair, which at the moment they are not.
Equally important, I wanted the arrests for possession to stop and people to get out of jail. In legal California, people are most likely unaware that in the rest of the United States there were over half a million cannabis arrests in 2016 alone. Even in California from 2006 to 2015 there were half a million total marijuana arrests. In 2016, there were still 13,810 marijuana arrests in California. Now as a result of legalization, various jurisdictions are dropping charges, arrests have lowered and conviction records are being expunged. This is all very good.
Don’t forget, it was the voters of the big cities who passed Prop. 64. Just five counties in Southern California cast enough votes to pass it. (51% or 4,065,387 votes in favor of AUMA, from Los Angeles County, San Diego County, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties). They didn’t really care about the growers, they just wanted to stop getting busted, but they still wanted to get good weed. These counties (along with Alameda and Santa Clara Counties in the Bay Area, which also heavily favored AUMA), year in and year out, always had the highest number of cannabis arrests in the state, although not the highest rate of arrests, that was reserved for the producing counties.
Even though their numbers had no effect on the outcome, it is interesting to note how the Emerald Triangle counties voted on Proposition 64. Trinity split 50-50 on AUMA, Humboldt went 58.7% “Yes” and Mendocino was 54.2% “Yes”. Even if all of the 50,928 citizens (out of a combined population of 235,692) who cast ballots in the Emerald Triangle had voted against the Proposition, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Proposition 64 passed by almost 2 million votes.
At this point, with the new legal era of cannabis in California only months old, it is clear that, in terms of our State’s licensing programs, the greatest threats to the small craft farmer arise out of the 2015 MCRSA bill passed by the legislature. This law mandated numerous costly tests for potency, pathogens and pesticides and called for the development of stricter guidelines for water use and water quality. Further, it required all movement of permitted and licensed cannabis to be carried by a licensed distributor and did not allow an individual cultivator to sell his or her product directly to the consumer. All of these stipulations are problematic for growers but they come from the original MCRSA in 2015, not Proposition 64.
In the end, what I am trying to say is that, with the exception of the taxes created in AUMA and the recent lifting of the cap on the number of cultivation sites per entity in the final MAUCRSA ((Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, a combo of MCRSA and AUMA), the dire existential threat to the farmers and manufacturers comes not from Proposition 64. Rather, it stems from the laws immediate precursor: 2015’s MCRSA. More particularly, the threat comes from regulations requiring numerous state agencies to create and enforce regulations. It has become clear, too, that laws can be changed, amended or repealed and that regulations can also be modified. We in the Cannabis Community need to keep improving our organizations, maintain our vigilance and be actively involved in the whole process.
Of course, there is one other very important reason I voted for Proposition 64: availability, whether for personal use, medical use, inspirational use, research or just because it should be. This precious herb is meant to be shared and praised for all her gifts, not hidden behind closed doors. As a legal product, millions of people will come to know her who never would have before as an illegal substance. It is time for cannabis to return to the light.
“Cannabis of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from this Earth.”
Check out these links for further research:
- California SB-94 Cannabis: Medicinal and Adult Use
- Wikipedia’s Legality of Cannabis by U.S. Jurisdiction
- ProCon.org’s Overview of the 29 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC Laws, Fees and Possession Limits
- NORML’s Almanac of Marijuana Arrest Statistics
California Marijuana Arrests