According to a recent article in the L.A. Times, a ballot initiative that, if passed, would legalize marijuana state wide is slated to be put on the 2010 general election ballot.
It would be a substantial breakthrough for California, which was the country's leader in decriminalizing marijuana for individual use and in developing medicinal marijuana.
Thankfully, it would also eliminate the contradictions that currently exist in the law that lead to absurd and incredibly unjust outcomes. I am specifically referring to the drastic difference in penalties for posessing less than an ounce of marijuana and selling less than an ounce of marijuana.
Credit: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t
Richard Lee rolls down the street in his wheelchair, popping in on any number of his businesses located in the "Oaksterdam district" of downtown Oakland, California. Once known for the wild finishes of its roughhouse Raiders, the city has quietly evolved into the Amsterdam of America. And Mr. Lee is spearheading the charge.
Lee is president of Oaksterdam University, the country's first "cannabis college," and a leading voice behind the statewide ballot measure The Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. If his hunch is correct (and polling data bears him out), California may become the first state to legalize marijuana.
Already Four States Have Marijuana Legalization Bills In Play; Californians To Vote On Legalization in 2010
It can readily be said that 2009 was one of the busiest and most productive years in cannabis law reform since NORML’s founding in 1970. However, it appears as if 2010 is going to be an even busier year–notably marked by the increasing number of actual state legalization bills and a voter initiative in America’s most important state.
Currently, there is legalization legislation pending in California, Massachusetts, Vermont, and a legalization bill was just introduced this week in Washington. Frankly, most of these bills do not have a strong prospect in passing this time out, however the immense public discussion that is generated is crucial for overall reform efforts.
The formula is simple: No public discussion or debate about legalization, obviously equates to no substantive law reforms. This is what regrettably happened in the United States, Canada and Europe from 1980-2000, buttressed by extreme federal anti-marijuanism in the form of the DARE program in the public school, the blitzkrieg of Partnership for a Drug-Free America ads polluting media airwaves and omnibus federal crime bills overloaded with severe and costly penalties (i.e., mandatory minimum sentencing, civil forfeiture, mass drug testing, etc…). However, since the turn of the century, there have been ever-increasing public discussions and debates about marijuana prohibition–principally driven by the creation and implementation of medical cannabis laws in thirteen states–which is leading to greater public support for reform.
A display case at Belmont Shore Natural Care showcases a large variety of marijuana types at the dispensary in Long Beach, California. Credit: Corbis
California and Los Angeles have been pioneer sites for the expansion of the legal right to use marijuana. But local officials may now be at the forefront of curtailing some of that exuberance. If the Los Angeles city council has its way, the plethora of largely unregulated medical-marijuana facilities that have become a neighborhood blight in parts of the city may finally be brought under control. L.A. officials and medical-marijuana advocates estimate there may be as many as 1,000 such dispensaries. But in a preliminary vote on Tuesday, Dec. 8, the council indicated its intention to cap the number at just 70.
At the same time, the language of the medical-marijuana ordinance being debated is putting dispensaries under increased scrutiny. At the moment, the proposed ordinance would allow the facilities to accept monetary contributions for their services, a way of finessing the stipulation under state law that dispensaries remain essentially nonprofits. Currently all dispensaries stay in business by selling marijuana, a status that city attorney Carmen Trutanich and Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley believe already violates the nonprofit requirement. According to their interpretation, recent court decisions have shown that marijuana collectives cannot sell the drug over the counter for a profit, although members can be reimbursed for the cost of growing it. "Whatever [the city council does] come up with, we will study very carefully, and if they're proposing anything that is inconsistent with California state law, we will ignore their act and enforce the law as we're sworn to do," Cooley tells TIME.
“Nobody produces any better weed than we do here,” says Raul G. Raul, a pot grower whose farm is somewhere between Santa Paula and Ojai. Raul likes to think of himself as a benevolent outlaw, supplying “medical” marijuana to clinics and “slanging [dealing] a little on the side to make people happy.”
His plants are gorgeous, even (or maybe even more so) to a man in recovery who hasn’t touched bud in 11 years. Some are easily 15 feet tall, with the sexiest flowers this side of Holland.
“Weed is as natural and wholesome as spinach,” says Raul, adding, “and a lot more profitable.”
Medical pot’s reputation has been tarnished lately — LA County’s DA is shutting down dispensaries, and investigators with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s narcotics unit have blamed at least one of the recent wildfires on a marijuana farm. But neither the negative publicity, nor, in fact, anything short of a bust, is going to put Raul out of business. Just one of his plants, he says, yields about two pounds of herb, which would be worth about $5,000; Raul boasts that his plants are worth “a cool green million.”
The economics of weed are simple and seductive. It costs about $1,000 to grow a kilo (2.2 pounds) of pot, which sells for up to $7,500 to a wholesaler. At a conservative $15 a gram, the $1,000 investment can ultimately be worth $15,000. If “medical marijuana” clinics are getting any part of the deal, you can imagine how sweet that is.
These days, medical marijuana clinics are popping up like weeds in California. Los Angeles alone has nearly 1,000 places where, with a doctor's note, you can legally buy pot.
But the illegal side of marijuana is also thriving. Authorities say it's partly because all those pot clinics have boosted the demand. That means the state spends millions of dollars trying to wipe out a plant that's already sanctioned.
For decades, a task force of lawmen has been parachuting into some of the most rugged sections of California. For a week at a time, they search for and destroy as much pot as they can find. They call it the Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP.
On a recent day, NPR joined CAMP in a helicopter to hunt for cannabis in Humboldt County in Northern California.
Marijuana plants -- Credit: AP / Russel Daniels
You can add the name of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to the list of Los Angeles area officials seeking to crack down on L.A.'s medical marijuana network. On Tuesday, Villaraigosa said that he wants to drastically reduce the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, from the current estimated number of at least 800 down to 200 or less.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urged the City Council on Wednesday to adopt a medical marijuana ordinance that would put a limit on the number of dispensaries.
"We have a right as a city to cap the number," he said, saying that a cap was "without question" needed to reduce the number to a level that the Police Department and city officials can adequately monitor. "Communities have a right to protect the character of those communities and the security of those neighborhoods."
Hey, hyperactive kids, in California you can get stoned -- legally. California doctors are now recommending marijuana to children diagnosed with attention hyperactivity disorder, Sphere reports.
Since 2004, California has given out more than 36,000 medical marijuana cards. The number of these cards going to children - it appears that all of the known cases are teenagers - is not known, as doctors are not required to report medical marijuana cases.
However, experts say medical marijuana cards going to minors are on the rise. Parents must accompany children under 18 requesting medical marijuana to this doctor's appointment, the New York Times reports.
Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to allow dispensaries to continue selling medical marijuana, but they still are looking into capping how many dispensaries are allowed inside city limits.
Published reports state the council spent seven hours hashing out the deal. They failed to make a decision on whether medical marijuana should be grown only at those dispensaries or other locations. Councilman Jose Huizar wanted to make sure marijuana was not coming from drug cartels, according to reports.
Retail shops are a sort of second wave of medical marijuana.
California first approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996, but it wasn’t until 2004 that the state approved the creation of distribution centers. Now medical marijuana stores are sprouting like weeds in Los Angeles (sorry); the city council could vote today to limit their number, the WSJ reports.
Hundreds of stores have opened in the past year, and the city now has somewhere around 1,000 marijuana dispensaries. By contrast, San Francisco, which has more rules governing the shops, has about 30.