Marijuana legalization for recreational use is coming to California if voters approve it later this year. Whichever way the vote goes, it is likely to affect other state laws on cannabis.
While pending legislation will make marijuana legalization possible in California, many do not realize that cannabis is mostly legal in the state now. Under The Compassionate Use Act passed 20 twenty years ago, people can get a doctor’s authorization for marijuana to treat nearly any health condition. California also decriminalized cannabis in 2011, allowing someone to possess small amounts of the drug with very little legal consequences.
“Since Prop 215 (The Compassionate Use Act) was enacted in 1996, California has devolved into de facto legalization,” writes Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, a group comprised of citizens who are adamantly against marijuana legalization in the state.
While the organization claims marijuana is practically legal in California, there are still tens of thousands of residents getting arrested for cannabis violations every year. A report published by the Drug Policy Alliance, a group dedicated to loosening marijuana legalization laws, found almost half a million people were arrested for marijuana infractions between 2006 and 2015.
After 2011 when marijuana was decriminalized, the number of misdemeanor arrests fell significantly. Yet, thousands of people are still arrested for marijuana possession offenses, such as having more than an ounce of pot or giving weed to others. Growing or possessing weed with intent to sell is considered a felony under the law, and the number of arrests for these offenses has remained constant.
The report also noted some racial disparity in California marijuana arrests. While both blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates, black people are much more likely to be detained by police for cannabis violations than white people are.
“In 2015, black people were more than twice as likely as white people to be arrested for a marijuana misdemeanor and nearly five times more likely than white people to be arrested for a marijuana felony,” the report said, citing California’s own arrest data.
The information did not provide how many arrests actually led to convictions and jail time. Yet, the arrest itself can ultimately cause some devastating effects on a person’s life.
Being arrested for a marijuana infraction can mean losing a day of work or having to provide a pile of paperwork when applying for new employment. If posting bail is impossible, a person may end up staying in jail for weeks awaiting trial.
Obviously, marijuana legalization in California would reduce the number of arrests, but it may not necessarily reduce the racial inequalities. Even years after Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana, the disparities still exist.
Proposed changes to marijuana legalization laws, known collectively as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64), include possessing cannabis concentrates and giving away small quantities of marijuana. Growing some cannabis plants at home would also become legal. If the changes are approved in November, marijuana would be sold and taxed following the model created by Colorado.
California will apply a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana transactions. The revenue collected will be deposited into an account to provide funds for various substance abuse education and treatment programs. Individual municipalities will also have the option to tack on their own taxes and fees.
Proposition 64 also reduces the punishment for marijuana violations. A person can receive six months in jail and/or a $500 fine if found guilty of selling recreational weed. Current law allows a sentence of up to four years in prison for the same offense. If the provision passes, judges will be allowed to reevaluate sentences for people already in jail for selling or growing weed illegally.
According to a survey conducted by UC Berkeley, 64 percent of California voters approve of recreational marijuana, so the November measure is likely to pass. The survey found only 36 percent were against cannabis legalization.
“These days, you can’t really find anyone who dismisses cannabis as intrinsically evil,” political consultant Roger Salazar told the LA Times.
Once California is added to the list of states where recreational marijuana is legal, other states will follow. Nationwide polls have clearly indicated a growing trend of marijuana legalization support across all demographics.
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