It's incredible to think that we are less than a decade removed from George W. Bush's presidency and California might legalize adult-use of cannabis next week. It was just eight years ago that most medical-cannabis dispensary owners operated on the down-low, and law-enforcement agencies locally and nationally enforced anti-marijuana laws with a closed and tight fist.
Let's not pretend that the anti-pot drug wars are over. That's not the case. But it's clear that the world is changing when it comes to the plant. Which is why the Express spoke via email with Oakland-based Amanda Reiman, a marijuana law and policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance, on the big Proposition 64 vote and what California might look like with legal weed.
Express: The vote on Prop. 64 is next week. What issues are the media or voters not talking about when it comes to the initiative?
Amanda Reiman: This issue has been covered from many angles, but one of the areas that gets downplayed is the impact of legalization on the ability of police to stop and question a person because of the smell of marijuana. In [Washington] D.C., cops were instructed that the smell of marijuana is no longer reason to stop and search someone. ... This has important implications for communities that are vulnerable to over-policing and the threat of deportation.
What does the medical-marijuana industry look like in five years if 64 passes?
Many more people will feel comfortable accessing cannabis as a first line treatment for pain, so I envision a wide array of products like balms, salves, patches, etc., designed to meet the needs of athletes, seniors, and others who commonly use prescription and over-the-counter medications for everyday pains.
What one thing should lawmakers not do if 64 passes and why?
Move to promote high taxes because they want a lot of revenue. If the taxes are too high, they will support the continuation of the illicit market and might be a burden for patients.
I would like to see medical cannabis untaxed with a state ID card, including the 15 percent excise tax. I believe there will be enough revenue even with that tax break, given the tourism and number of people who will not maintain their patient status after legalization.
What should be the next policy priority in California and why? How should local governments such as Oakland respond?
Local governments need to figure out how they want cannabis to fit into their landscape. This is the case whether Prop. 64 passes or not, because the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act requires state licensees to first gain local licenses. Where cannabis activities can happen and what the process is for proving compliance will largely be dictated on the local level.
Localities also have the power to pass local taxes and determine where that money goes. In both MCRSA and Prop. 64, those with local licenses get priority once the state starts granting licenses in 2018. The more proactive localities are in their licensing plans, the smoother the transition will be.
If California legalizes recreational, what is the next big pot battle and why?
The impact of legalizing in California on federal marijuana reform cannot be understated. Even if California is the only state to legalize this year, representation at the federal level in the House of Representatives will increase from 23 to 76. This means that barriers to state level implementation stemming from the state/federal conflict such as banking will have a greater chance of being resolved. And the push to de-schedule marijuana will gain traction. Legalization in California is a necessary step toward ending prohibition on the federal level.
Any final thoughts or insight before the landmark vote?
November 8 is the continuation of a long journey toward sensible regulations and the creation of an industry that reflects our values as cannabis consumers. The battle does not end November 8, but make no mistake, legalizing marijuana in California will change the world.
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