A few days ago the California Secretary of State’s office made it official; proponents of The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) have handed-in more than 600,000 valid signatures, assuring that full marijuana legalization will appear on the ballot in CA in November.
That’s right; Californians this fall will have yet another chance to end marijuana prohibition and legalize the responsible use of marijuana in the most populous state in the country. Most of us would have predicted California would be the first state to legalize marijuana, and they came close in 2010. But the proposal had some unexpected opposition from those who said they favored legalization but opposed particular provisions of the initiative and ended up losing with 46.5% of the vote.
This time, it really is important that we get it right.
What Will the AUMA Allow?
This pending proposal, if approved by the voters, will permit adults to legally cultivate up to six marijuana plants and to possess up to an ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates; and it will license the commercial cultivation and retail sales of marijuana products to adults.
Current polling indicates public support for the proposal at 60%. The AUSA has been endorsed by an impressive array of organizations, including the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, the California NAACP, ACLU of California, as well as NORML, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, and the Drug Policy Foundation.
We have the public support to approve legalization in California if we avoid the mistakes of earlier legalization efforts.
What Does That Mean?
First, and most importantly, it means we have to keep our eye on the goal, which is ending marijuana prohibition and establishing a legal market where consumers can obtain their legal marijuana. We simply must not permit the differing views regarding some of the details of legalization to be used to divide us and maintain prohibition.
The “Reefer Maniacs” and the Special Interests
Of course, there are those who, for whatever reason, oppose marijuana use and simply want to continue prohibition. They include individuals who, despite the scientific evidence, have an exaggerated view of the potential dangers of marijuana; as well as those special interests who benefit from prohibition, including many law-enforcement agencies and related businesses for whom marijuana prohibition is a jobs program.
While these special interests continue to have an exaggerated influence with many elected officials, their influence on a voter initiative is far less significant. That is demonstrated by the series of marijuana-related voter initiatives we have passed all around this country, despite near unanimous opposition from police and prosecutors.
Our “Friends” Who Oppose Legalization
But perhaps the more important concern is not from our natural political opponents – the anti-marijuana zealots – but from those who claim they support marijuana legalization, but just not this version of legalization. These “friends” refuse to throw this destructive prohibition policy on the great trash heap of history because they disagree with some of the details of the particular legalization proposal before the voters.
The “Tomato Model”
Some of these folks favor the “tomato model,” under which one could possess, cultivate or sell as much marijuana as one wanted, with literally no restrictions, age or otherwise.
One can certainly sympathize with the goal of fewer restrictions and the right to have larger quantities of marijuana, if one is a marijuana smoker or otherwise understands that marijuana really is a safe product, and most of those restrictions are unnecessary. But that ignores the reality of nearly 80-years of prohibition with decades of “reefer madness” propaganda and the impact that policy has had on the attitudes of many voters, especially non-smokers.
The Necessary Support of the Non-Smokers
Polling indicates we currently enjoy the political support of a majority of the non-smokers in this country (whom, it should be noted, comprise roughly 86% of the electorate; only about 14% of the adults in the country are current smokers), but their support is based on their belief that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy. They have concluded that marijuana prohibition causes far more harm to society than the marijuana it is intended to prohibit.
Their support is not based on a favorable view of marijuana smoking. In fact, 64% of the non-smokers who support full marijuana legalization say they do this despite holding a generally negative view of marijuana smokers! Apparently, some of the “Cheech and Chong” stereotypes that many of us who smoke have learned to enjoy and laugh at, are taken more seriously by many non-smokers.
Most Smokers Are “In the Closet”
In addition, this unfavorable view of marijuana smokers is largely the result of the reality that most middle-class marijuana smokers do not have the luxury of “coming out,” as it would cost them their jobs and their ability to support their families. So the people who are the most visible marijuana smokers, and who are all too frequently pictured in the media, are smokers who by their lifestyle choices live on the fringes of society. They are generally not, for example, the responsible parent who, in addition to smoking marijuana, is working tirelessly to support the family financially while spending quality time with their children, and instilling in them the common values of hard work and honesty and the importance of community service and helping those less fortunate.
Lots of marijuana smokers fit that description, but most are not visible to the non-smokers. Thus many non-smokers continue to hold on to a silly stereotype that suggests those of us who smoke marijuana are lazy, irresponsible, self-centered, and primarily interested in getting high. That is a terribly unfair and harmful stereotype, and we must continue to work to dispel those myths.
But that will take time, and we have only a few months before the voters in CA (and in several other states) will be voting on a full legalization initiative. So in the short run, it is imperative that we keep our anti-prohibition coalition together, including especially those non-smokers who oppose prohibition.
And that means we do not have the luxury of demanding unlimited quantities, or no restrictions, age or otherwise. Were we to do that, we would lose the initiatives, and would be stuck for several more years with prohibition in CA. In no state, including California, do current smokers comprise anywhere near a majority of eligible voters.
It’s Time to Finally Win
So now is the time for responsible marijuana smokers in CA (and in several other states) to lay aside their differences; join hands with the majority of non-smokers who, like us, oppose prohibition; and end marijuana prohibition once and for all.
There will be time in future years, after marijuana has been legalized and the arrests have ended, to revisit each of these new laws to make improvements where they are needed. Our work is not completed until responsible marijuana smokers are treated fairly in all areas of their lives, ending job discrimination, child custody issues, and unfair DUID laws. But we simply must not permit the perfect to be the enemy of the good.
Let’s get it right, CA. Let’s adopt the Adult Use of Marijuana Act this November.
This is only incidentally about marijuana; it is really about personal freedom.
This column was first published on Marijuana.com.