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California decides on legalizing recreational marijuana

Under CC license from Flickr user Katheirne Hitt, resized and recropped


Medical marijuana has been legal in California since the late 90’s, but this year, California voters will decide whether the drug will be legalized for recreational use.

Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would allow adults over 21 to possess one ounce of marijuana, and would establish laws to regulate and tax marijuana cultivation and sales. Proponents say it would curb wasteful spending and provide much-needed revenue in California. Opponents say more legalization would jeopardize public health.


Northern California Spokesperson for the Yes on 64 campaign Tenoch Flores says California’s Marijuana laws are "broken."


"and I think that’s actually something that both supporters and opponents of this measure can actually agree to,” Flores adds. He says that the system isn’t working, and Prop 64 is the best opportunity to reform California’s marijuana laws.


Flores says under the current laws, there are over 8,000 marijuana arrests in California each year. One of the potential benefits of this measure would be to decriminalize the use and possession of marijuana; especially in minority communities.


"In California over the last 10 years there have been over 400,000 felony and misdemeanor arrests for marijuana possession,” points out Flores, adding that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to be arrested on a marijuana charge, and that the application of marijuana laws in California is unjust, uneven, and wasteful.


“A lot of law enforcement resources right now are being spent unnecessarily on minor drug offenses. That needs to change.”


For proponents like Flores, Prop 64 is a long time coming. It marks the third time legalization has been on the ballot in California. It was defeated handily in 1972, and lost by a much slimmer margin in 2010. Medical marijuana use, however, became legal in 1996, and even some Prop 64 opponents are not opposed to its use.


Sunnyvale City Councilperson Jim Davis, a No on 64 advocate says, he and other opponents to the measure do not oppose the medical use of marijuana, but the improper use of medical marijuana. He served on the Sunnyvale police force for more than 30 years, and belongs to the California Narcotics Officers Association. “I saw a lot of the dilatory effects of marijuana use on people, and how it can be misused. Marijuana is a Central Nervous System depressant, much like alcohol, so what it does is it lowers your inhibitions and creates a feeling of euphoria and lowers your ambition to go out and do things,” says Davis.


Davis say he believes that users lose interest in working, cleanliness and doing things that are safe for themselves. He has concerns about the drug being used at all. Though he understands the 'Yes' side’s argument about decriminalization, he says, those benefits are overstated. “The state of California basically decriminalized the personal possession of marijuana some time ago.”
Since 2010 a small amount of marijuana doesn’t lead to jail time, but rather those going to jail and into our state prison system have been those who possessed large quantities of marijuana. Of supporters who Davis suspects have a financial motivation for supporting Prop 64, he says, “I think that that’s a sad reason that anyone would want to support the marijuana initiative.”


Supporter Tenoch Flores says that legalization is expected to generate up to a billion dollars in revenue, a figure coming from the state of California’s legislative analyst's office, an independent body. Flores says that there would be up to $125 million a year for law enforcement and $350 million a year for youth substance abuse and prevention programs.


Despite claims from supporters that the measure would protect children, opponents have real concerns about minors being exposed to marijuana. That concern became even more real this summer when gummy candies that tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, were suspected of hospitalizing people attending a quinceanera party in the Mission.  According to reports, 19 people -- including children as young as 6 -- ate the candy at the party inside the Women’s Building in the Mission district. All experienced similar symptoms: rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, dilated pupils, dizziness nausea and confusion.


Flores notes that this incident took place under the current system of marijuana laws. He says though, that California has learned from Washington and Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal since 2012. “Colorado, for example,” Flores says, “was a state that had a lot of issues with edibles. So this measure has taken care to use those lessons, and apply them in this measure here.” The measure requires that all edibles be clearly marked, not marketed to children, and be contained in childproof packaging.


Flores says that Prop 64 is about allowing adults to use marijuana, not children. He notes that because drug dealers do not check ID’s, it is much easier for minors to access marijuana than alcohol. “They’re not carding people as they make these purchases.” Flores says, “That will change as a result of this measure. This measure restricts marijuana use, marijuana purchases to adults 21 and up, just like alcohol sales.”


Along with California, statewide measures proposing the legalization of marijuana are on the ballot in 4 additional states this year: Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. But even if Prop 64 or those other states’ measures pass, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration just announced this past August that marijuana will remain a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, and users would officially be in violation of federal law.