Puff, Puff…Pass?: Proposition 64 is California’s mark of progress

Isabelle Doerschlag/Staff

If cannabis is legalized recreationally in California after Nov. 8’s election, the entire Pacific Coast of the United States will allow the possession, consumption and cultivation of marijuana — a federally illegal drug.

Legitimacy is the theme of cannabis legalization. Activists say access to cannabis is a civil liberty; some doctors consider it natural medicine. Entrepreneurs are salivating at the the potentiality of capitalizing on legal cannabis, using modern marketing techniques to appeal to targeted audiences and creating newer business models to make their profit.

Here’s where conservatism comes into play: The Drug Enforcement Agency says it has no medical value — lack of research, continuation of studies to see long-term effects and historical fear of drug abuse have all contributed to their ruling — hence its scheduling as a Class I drug, along with heroin and LSD.

Yet, the sales of cannabis is nothing new for medical patients. Proposition 215, passed in 1996, decriminalized possession for all medical marijuana patients allowing licensed cannabis consumers to buy marijuana from any dispensary in person — only if the municipality and local law enforcement allowed the dispensary.

Now, they can order cannabis online from delivery services or in person from professional dispensary storefronts, all specifically marketed to target audiences that were unforeseen: elderly, young parents, working professionals and athletes, alike.

But Proposition 64 clears the air about the decades old stigma of marijuana. If passed, adults over 21 will be able to sell, cultivate and consume cannabis in private spaces. There won’t be any police raids or arrests, as long as you stay out of educational zones and public places.

If passed, how do we make it legitimate?

The question is: If the proposition is passed, how will the cannabis industry prove its worth and characterize itself differently from every other existing industry?

Looking at the effects of legalization in the four recreational states and the District of Columbia, legalization seems to be treating city governments awfully well. The excise taxes from sales and cultivation are levied by governments and the revenues go back into the city — drug prevention programs, youth education, research and funds toward rehabilitating the environmental damage caused by prior illegal growing.

The concern with making marijuana legal in California is the next step — what will become of the industry? Businesses may grow, maximizing their profits along the way and mass-producing cannabis plants.

If marijuana is new to you, corporatization probably doesn’t pose a threat. But long-term users and small businesses already have a steady relationship with craft cannabis. After the prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century, emerging corporations capitalized on legalization: distributing mass-produced, low-grade beer and spirits at each corner liquor store.

This is exactly what prolific cannabis consumers hope to avoid. If anything would be worse than not capitalizing on the benefits of the cannabis industry, it would be turning the industry into a twin of Big Tobacco or Big Alcohol, with a few major players controlling the production and distribution processes. The appeal of craft cannabis would be tarnished. The culture would be upheaved.

There is a culture surrounding high-end marijuana use; cannabis connoisseurs are often attracted to the  farm-to-table aspect of the industry. They want to know how their marijuana is grown, how it is dried and cured, what strains will alleviate their symptoms and how they will experience the product. The domination of low-grade, mass-produced cannabis would be a nightmare to the average MMJ patient.

Small businesses have already demonstrated their ability to market and distribute products to a particular niche of high-end consumers — legalization would offer these businesses a gateway to normalization. Contemporary names attract customers and aesthetic websites use high-definition photos to show the detail in flower buds and extracts. Social media and iPhone apps encourage consumers to buy-in on promotional deals by offering discounts, two-for-one deals and location services to hone in on consumers. These businesses even sponsor cannabis festivals and conferences, as well as advertise in regional newspapers. The weed industry has officially hit 2016.

Despite the success of the current market for medical marijuana, full legalization will not be easy given concern from local governments, neighborhoods and law enforcement. But it has been said to help reduce criminal activity, prevent incarcerations for minor drug possession, and ease cash-strapped deficit run governments.

Californians can consider Proposition 64 as a means to safely access marijuana, or their medicine for that matter. No underground market, no illicit means to acquire marijuana to smoke. If anything, transactions become safer, your cannabis becomes safer, you become safer.

Considering that California’s ballot includes the option to vote for stricter gun control, the use of condoms for pornography and the repeal of the death penalty, 2016 highlights our Golden State’s progress in comprehensive social reform. With 55 percent of voters supporting the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, people over 21 could very well soon buy cannabis from their local dispensary.

This is exactly what prolific cannabis consumers hope to avoid. If anything would be worse than not capitalizing on the benefits of the cannabis industry, it would be turning the industry into a twin of Big Tobacco or Big Alcohol, with a few major players controlling the production and distribution processes. The appeal of craft cannabis would be tarnished. The culture would be upheaved.

Proposition 64 is not only progressive in its acceptance of widespread cannabis use, but it also serves to reform the legacy of an inequitable drug policy that targets communities of color. The war on drugs highlights the disproportionate focus from law enforcement and our nation’s criminal justice system: People of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested for drug possession than white people, regardless of all races’ comparable drug use.

The emergence of legal cannabis in California can help provide opportunity to people of color, now more than ever.

I spoke with Steve DeAngelo, cannabis activist and founder of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, at a cannabis conference highlighting diversity and employment opportunities in Oakland on Oct. 24.

Here’s what DeAngelo thinks:

There’s a need for jobs in the industry, whether you are a graduating college student or a mid-career person looking for a change. Anything from software to construction to finance to marketing, jobs will open up.

But there’s only one chance to create the industry the right way — what DeAngelo wants is for the cannabis industry to embrace diversity and sustainability. He believes in economic fairness as part of business models and wants all communities, especially communities of color, to be understood.

“If all that we do with this is create a new industry, shame on us, we’ve blown our greatest opportunity, because what we have an opportunity to do here is not to create a new industry but to create a new kind of industry, right?” DeAngelo said.

Ricky Williams agrees. The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL-player-turned-cannabis-advocate was at the conference too, a keynote speaker discussing his personal journey dealing with athletic injuries and mental health since his college career.

During 11 seasons in the NFL, Williams was suspended twice for violating the substance-free policy, testing positive for THC. But, to deal with his chronic pain and emotional well-being, Williams would take a cocktail of painkillers among other pharmaceutical drugs. Marijuana worked best for him.

He doesn’t think athletic associations will change their stance any time soon on cannabis. If anything, the NFL will wait to allow marijuana until it becomes federally legalized. But Williams wants the NFL to at least raise the THC levels in drug tests, allowing players to use a small amount of marijuana without being penalized.

“I wouldn’t have won the Heisman without using cannabis,” Williams said. At hearing that, the folks around us cheered.

Contact Robert Patrick van Tooke at [email protected]