With legalization on the November ballot, GT takes a look back over the movement’s history
“Doctors smoke it. Nurses smoke it. Judges smoke it, even the lawyers too …” It seems as though Jamaican reggae singer Peter Tosh’s message has finally gotten across to Californians. A proposition to “Legalize It” will appear on the November statewide ballot, asking voters to make recreational marijuana use legal for everyone over the age of 21.
Marijuana has been in the public eye since the 1960s, and has been on a tumultuous path toward normalization ever since. The upcoming ballot initiative, titled The Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, seeks to end the battle once and for all.
According to the Act, approximately 100 million Americans—around one-third of the country’s population—acknowledge that they have used cannabis, confirming that a large percentage of Americans have made marijuana a part of their life regardless of legal implications.
California went on to decriminalize marijuana possession in 1976, reducing the crime from a felony to a misdemeanor and taking the first steps toward recognizing marijuana as separate from, and therefore less dangerous than, other narcotics.
In 1990 the California Research Advisory Panel, overseen by the Office of the Attorney General, recommended that personal possession and cultivation of marijuana be made legal because attempts by the state to deter use has been considered “worse than useless.” The panel recommended that marijuana be “further isolated from other illegal drugs” and that California consider allowing “cultivation of marijuana for personal use.”
Recommendations to decriminalize marijuana were put forth by the advisory panel in an attempt to alter the current “drug war” system that has done little to keep drugs out of the hands of Americans—despite billions of dollars spent.
California took one further step toward legalization with Prop 215: The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which legalized marijuana for medical use in the state. Despite numerous attacks by the federal government, which still considers marijuana, medical or otherwise, to be illegal, patients across California have acquired legal access to marijuana to cure what ails them.
Locally, Santa Cruz adopted Measure K in 2006, a city ordinance “that requires the Santa Cruz Police Department to make adult (age 18 or older) criminal marijuana investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures and prosecutions their lowest law enforcement priority.” The measure goes on to support the taxation and regulation of marijuana and advocate for changes to state law, similar to Measure Z that was passed in Oakland in 2004.
The current proposal to legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use elicits plenty of mixed feelings. Growers in the Santa Cruz area support marijuana, but have varying views as to the legalization, and, most importantly, the taxation, of their lucrative business.
“They say that money doesn’t grow on trees. Well, I’ll show you one tree that grows plenty of money,” says Craig, who asked that we not use his real name. He has been able to support himself by cultivating and selling marijuana on the black market. “It’s not that I don’t want it to be legal, I’m just wondering how it will impact the market,” he says. “Will small operations be able to afford the licenses necessary to grow pot and distribute it legally?”
Katherine, another local grower who wishes to go by an alternate name, has tapped into the market of growing marijuana legally for medical use and has found it to be a competitive, but profitable, market. She is set up with premium equipment to cultivate and distribute to medical clubs all across California. The legalization for recreational use “can only boost my market and my sales,” she says. “I’m all for the legalization, which will stop tying up court systems with non-violent offenders and create needed revenue for California and our local communities.”
Local business owner Matt Pinck, of Notorious Teaze, is using Assembly Bill 2254 to try to generate business in this time of economic uncertainty by printing organic T-shirts with “Legalize California” and “Tax It” logos. Pinck has advocated for marijuana for about 20 years. “This is what we all dreamed of when we were teenagers,” he says. “All of a sudden it’s a lot closer than we thought.”
With daily reminders that the economy is in dire straits, proponents stress that legalization has the potential to bring billions of tax dollars into state coffers. California NORML estimates that revenue from legalizing marijuana will not only bring in tax dollars, but it could also generate 500,000 new jobs and $1.4 billion in wages, create more tourism revenue, boost retail sales by $3-$5 billion and save over $200 million annually in enforcement costs for arrests, prosecution and prisons.
“This is the quiet before the storm,” says Pinck, adding a phrase borrowed from his T-shirts: “Tax it! Legalize it!”