50 States

50 States: California

By Jon Young

50 States: California

Medical: Yes
Recreational: Yes
Decriminalized: Yes

The man who brought you Napster has now brought legal cannabis to the state of California. Former President of Facebook and tech industry giant, Sean Parker, entered the world of politics and philanthropy using his substantial wealth and famous name to get behind ending prohibition in the state of California for adults 21 and over.

“I’ve been following this issue with great interest for some time,” Parker told Forbes before the election. “It’s very encouraging to see a vibrant community of activists, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this issue, coming together around a sensible reform based measure that protects children, gives law enforcement additional resources, and establishes a strong regulatory framework for responsible adult use of marijuana—one that will yield economic benefits for all Californians.”

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Prop. 64) was so heavily entwined with Sean Parker that it is nominatively referred to as the Parker Initiative. There were originally more than 20 efforts to legalize cannabis, but his made it to the ballot box, and it earned 56 percent of the vote in the November 2016 election. Recreational cannabis is now legal in the state that first legalized medical cannabis 20 years earlier with the passage of Proposition 215, a law that also made California the second state to decriminalize cannabis. Oregon was the first in 1975. 

“Legalizing marijuana in California will have a national and global impact on marijuana prohibition all over the world,” said retired Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein, a veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department and executive board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “We are an epicenter of American culture and values, and we’re sending a very loud message: It’s unethical, impractical and harmful to individuals and families to continue punishing people for marijuana. Today is the beginning of the end.”

The passage of Prop. 64 allows people age 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and eight grams of concentrates and use it in privates homes and businesses licensed for on-site consumption. Individuals can also grow up to six plants in hidden, locked areas within a private home. The law sets standards for sales, testing, grow sites and packaging. The political, editorial and business sectors largely endorsed the measure, including Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. 

It’s a fairly sensible measure, but is it the best?

After the failed attempt in 2010 to pass Prop. 19 that would have legalized cannabis and instead cleared the way for other states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska to legalize, the California chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and Reform CA (one of the most organized and industry-supported efforts to legalize) took on the mantle and organized grassroots efforts for years in anticipation of 2016. For these groups, Prop. 64 didn't go far enough to ensure basic liberties and maintain a fair and balanced marketplace. But with Prop. 64's sizeable financial backing, NORML and Reform CA decided to stand aside.

While some groups stayed neutral, others  jumped on to Parker’s bigger, better funded ship. Alice Huffman, president of the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) decided to join forces with Parker after negotiating for some changes.

“I’m not advocating for the use of marijuana. I’m advocating for social justice,” Huffman said according to the LA Times. “They gave us the five or six things we asked for.”

Cat Packer, Campaign Coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, supported the measure, adding that it will reduce stop-and-frisk type policing. Prior to Prop. 64, medical cannabis was immune from prosecution but not legal. 

"What Proposition 64 does," explained Packer, "is it takes marijuana and redefines it as a product that is not contraband. When substances are considered contraband, police officers are able to use those substances as 'probable cause,' or a legally justified excuse to stop, search and seize property and then use any evidence they find against them in a court of law. Because legal marijuana will no longer be considered contraband, police officers will no longer be able to use marijuana as a way to stop and harass people and then use other evidence they find against them. This is going to have huge impacts on communities, especially communities of color, so folks should consider this a social justice issue."

Packer later added, "Proposition 64 is about more than marijuana. It's about people. It's about safety and protecting communities and protecting all Californians. There are tons of protections for folks."

Photo credit: Unsplash.

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