Prop 19: Imperfect, but worthy of your vote

by on June 28, 2010 · 47 comments

in Culture, Election, Popular

marijuana judge gray

The initiative’s website features an endorsement from a conservative Orange County superior court judge.

At first glance, the November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California seems like a no-brainer. It will boost tax revenues. It will lighten the burden on our prison system and allow law enforcement to focus on more serious issues. It will move billions of dollars out of the hands of drug traffickers and into the legitimate economy, creating thousands of jobs. Overall, it will end the prohibition of a relatively harmless drug that has demonstrated medical benefits and is enjoyed by millions of recreational users.

But a closer look suggests the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act – also known as Proposition 19 – is less than ideal. Even so, I think Californians should vote yes.

The drive to pass Prop 19 is being funded by Richard Lee, who operates a dispensary and a nursery in the Oakland area. Lee also runs Oaksterdam University, which offers instruction on topics such as cannabis horticulture and legal issues facing dispensary operators. At least one critic, activist Bruce Cain, calls Lee a “marijuana monopolist” and claims a chief goal of Prop 19 is to line Lee’s pockets.

Indeed, Lee’s empire already pulls in single-digit millions every year – though he says his personal share is only about $50,000 – and does seem well-positioned for growth if Prop 19 passes. Potential profits for Richard Lee don’t concern me, though. It’s the way the act goes about legalizing marijuana that leaves a few things to be desired.

marijuna med mj patient

A medical marijuana patient processes his homegrown cannabis. Photo: William W. West

The initiative does include some wonderful, long-overdue changes to existing law. If it passes, Californians over 21 will be allowed to grow their own marijuana and to keep what they grow on the premises where they grow it. Prop 19 would also legalize the possession of up to one ounce of pot outside of those premises. These moves would be major improvements over the current prohibition of non-medicinal growing and holding.

On the other hand, the initiative has some key weaknesses. For example, Prop 19 stumbles by deferring commercial pot policy to local governments instead of establishing a statewide plan for commercial sales. NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, touches on this weakness in its endorsement of the initiative.

“The immediate effect of the passage of this measure would be to protect the individual from arrest if he/she possesses or grows a small quantity of marijuana in the privacy of their own home,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release. Longer term, Prop 19 “will provide local governments with the option to regulate and tax the retail distribution of marijuana to adults in a manner similar to the way society controls alcohol.”

Let me reiterate that: the initiative on the November ballot will make it legal to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana, but would not create a framework to buy, sell, and tax marijuana throughout California. Instead, the initiative would give cities and counties the option to create such a framework on their own.

This local-option approach might be okay with Richard Lee up in Oakland, a city so pot-positive it allows medical marijuana patients to fly out of Oakland International with weed on their person. But what about towns run by conservatives, like San Diego? It seems unlikely that our county’s board of supervisors, for example, would take a sensible and fair approach to marijuana when the board doesn’t even take a sensible and fair approach to issuing food stamps . In fact, in late June, the board began zoning medicinal marijuana dispensaries practically out of existence in the county, even though California voters legalized medical cannabis 14 years ago.

That’s why I prefer a statewide pot policy like the one in HR 2254, the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act, a bill from Democratic state assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco. As reports, “Ammiano’s bill would impose a $50-per-ounce state levy on pot made available for sale. It also would license private marijuana cultivators and wholesalers and give the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control authority over a legal retail marijuana industry.”

But 2254 is a tough sell in Sacramento, where a majority of our legislators lack the spines to enact legalization themselves. As Prop 19 gathered momentum in early 2010, Ammiano delayed hearings on 2254 until this fall, apparently hoping the push for the initiative could help his fellow legislators see the light. “We want to see how the legislation can get out in front of the initiative and at the same time be complementary,” Ammiano said. “The initiative does call for more of a patchwork than a uniform state policy, but there may be a way to try to blend those two.”

HR 2254, with its statewide approach, seems like the superior path to legalization. Ammiano’s bill even exempts medical marijuana from taxation, which Prop 19 does not. Long-time legalization advocates like Ed Rosenthal, aka the Guru of Ganja, and Dennis Peron, whose activism helped Proposition 215 become law in 1996, point out that no other prescription drugs are taxed — so why would it be acceptable to tax medicinal marijuana?

marijuana Lambert-after-plea

Donna Lambert, with supporters, after accepting plea bargain. (Photo: William W. West)

Prop 19 also does nothing for Californians who are serving time for marijuana-related offenses. Donna Lambert is a San Diego medical marijuana patient and former dispensary operator who was charged with seven felonies by county district attorney Bonnie Dumanis.

Though Dumanis’s office retreated after juries acquitted two other dispensary defendants, offering a plea deal that traded the seven felonies for one misdemeanor, Lambert remains concerned about others who weren’t so fortunate.

“I am deeply disappointed that this act does nothing to release the thousands of marijuana prisoners, but in fact actually creates several new levels of punishable crimes,” Lambert said in an email. Lambert says she’ll probably vote for Prop 19 but hopes that it will be followed by more comprehensive reform.

Under the proposition, anyone who furnishes marijuana to a person aged 18 to 20 could face up to $1,000 in fines and up to 6 months in jail. A knowledgeable local source told me that about 75% of San Diego’s registered medicinal users are between the ages of 18 and 25, so it seems fair to assume demand is strong among that age group. And since college-age people don’t tend to demand their friends show ID, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where a 22-year-old shares marijuana with a 20-year-old and ends up in trouble with the law. With this in mind, I think it would make more sense for Prop 19 to extend legalization to people aged 18 and over, not just 21 and over.

HR 2254 also allows adults to grow up to 6 marijuana plants at a time, while Prop 19 places a 25-square-foot limit on personal growing space. I’ve never tried to grow tomatoes, let alone marijuana, so I’m not sure which limit makes more sense. But the “Prince of Pot,” Marc Emery – a Canadian who was recently extradited to Seattle and currently faces several years in US federal prison for selling seeds to Americans over the Internet – has said that 25 square feet would be more than enough. In a Cannabis Culture magazine article, Emery crunches the “industry standard” horticulture numbers and concludes that “ANY competent grower can achieve 16 to 40 ounces every 10 weeks in their space, a generous personal or medical amount by any standard.”

Emery calculates that a 25-square-foot indoor growing area could yield up to 5 pounds of marijuana a year at a total cost of about $1,000, or somewhere around $12.50 an ounce. Currently, high-grade marijuana’s selling price at California dispensaries typically equals its street price of about $300 to $400 per ounce. These numbers suggest that current prices include massive profit margins, which I couldn’t help but think of as I left a Banker’s Hill dispensary after a recent visit – just as the man who runs the place was pulling up in a brand new Lexus.

In any case, my thumbs are anything but green and are far more comfortable pressing the spacebar than working the soil. So if Prop 19 passes and I find myself looking to consume some marijuana, I’ll likely be buying it from somebody. Accordingly, I’m a bit perplexed by Prop 19’s deferral to local jurisdictions, which could preserve black markets in areas like San Diego and force legal consumers like me to spend my money in more with-it jurisdictions.

But assuming HR 2254 and its statewide sales plan is out of reach, Prop 19 strikes me as a weaker but still dramatic improvement in marijuana policy that Californians should support. By voting yes on the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, we will lead the nation forward in an area where the federal government appears incapable of moving beyond the asinine status quo, even with Democrats in firm control of the executive and legislative branches.

marijuna little green plant

All this fuss over a little green plant. (Photo: William W. West)

In March 2009, for example, President Obama held a town hall-type meeting in which he invited Americans to submit questions online and vote for their favorites. More than 3 million people voted on more than 13,000 questions, and in three separate categories – budget, health care reform, and green jobs – questions about legalizing marijuana got the most votes.

“I don’t know what this says about the online audience,” Obama said with a forced laugh that instantly marginalized the legalization movement. “The answer is, no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.”

After the event, a reporter complained about Obama’s response to White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “But, Robert, he didn’t take on the serious issue,” the reporter said. “He made a joke out of it. I mean, there were a lot of questions about legalization of marijuana, not as a job creation program, but just as a serious policy issue. And with what’s happening in Mexico –”

“The president opposes the legalization of marijuana,” Gibbs responded, providing another example of how Obama’s progressivism tends to be limited to the pages of his autobiographies. But the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, despite its shortcomings, would be a big step forward for marijuana policy – and that gives me hope.

To read Proposition 19 — also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — click here.

{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Colorado Medical Marijuana June 28, 2010 at 10:03 am

Kudo’s to California for getting the ball rolling. Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s a good start. Slowly we will overcome the stigma associated with Marijuana and get Law Enforcement taking care of real criminals.


Sunshine June 28, 2010 at 10:05 am

what a refreshing pic on your front page this morning, OBRag. Thanx for the informative information, Shane. Very eye opening look into a rather complex issue. definitely worth personal investigation and taking a stand one way or the other on.

personally, i believe that marijuana use is far less harming to its users and society as a whole than the entire alcohol industry. imho, mj users get mellow and chill out comfortably on the couch whereas those that drink do it out and about in bars, cars, and with reckless abandon to those around them.

no one i’ve ever know has thrown up excessively on a sidewalk, storefront, or alleyway after using mj yet I see (and smell) that all the time from those who ingest alcohol limits that their bodies simply can not handle.

There is much medical evidence on both mj and alcohol use as well as ‘abuse’ of these substances. Treatment centers are a booming business full of those who abuse alcohol. Alcoholism is a fatal disease recognized by the AMA since the 30’s. Simply not the case with mj.


bodysurferbob June 28, 2010 at 11:42 am

it may even pass if we can get all you bong-heads off the couch and into the voting booth.


psd June 28, 2010 at 11:58 am

Thanks for the refresher and bringing this issue back into the spotlight, Shane! I’m pretty much in agreement that the initiative is somewhat less than ideal, but any progress is still progress. I wasn’t aware of the House bill in progress either, so thanks for the info on that. I really think any regulations need to come down from the state level if they’re going to be effective, the patchwork of having every county and/or city make the call on their own not only leads to mass confusion but to a lot of delays and redundant expenses in the way of zoning and use studies…


Dixon Guizot June 29, 2010 at 9:50 am

PSD, great point about the redundant expenses to taxpayers of having each locality examine the issue and create policy on their own. And let’s not forget that each locality’s politicians will have a chance to get on their soapbox, meaning we’ll also have to suffer lots of redundant noise pollution.


AZHaze June 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

Nice to read a refreshing, well-written article on a subject that’s all-too-often rehashed gong-ringing and echoed mantras. Cogent and sweetly succinct – minus the soap box rhetoric and dead-horse beating normally associated with the bong-waving crowd. Kudos to the thoughtful and mindful tokers who pick up the pen – a wake-up call to naysayers who insist we’re all about tie-dyes, ice cream and Doritos. Well done, Shane.


Kenloc June 29, 2010 at 2:53 pm

mmmmmmm ice cream and doritos…..


Dave Sparling June 28, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I hope it passes but as we all know, the DO-GOOD-NICKS have in place laws as to where we can do things like smoke grass or drink beer. So the cops will be checking the beach and other public places for smokers. There was no smoking allowed in the BEER GARDEN, even though it was open to the sky. In this new over active security world many people are willing to give up personal freedom for security. I am atheist but I love this quote “God protect me from those who want to protect me”.


Linda June 28, 2010 at 2:18 pm

So the way to get around the limit is to grown way more than allowed and just keep it where it was grown? This initiative will cost taxpayers way more than it will bring in in taxes since every city will spend huge amounts of time debating and regulating this drug with little success since it is impossible to police everyone’s garden to see if the limits are being held to, the price will go down, and more teenagers will be getting stoned and dropping out of school. There won’t be any protection in the work place, and we will lose federal money. Just what California needs. It will be a free for all. Moreover, prisons are not full of pot users since pot is decriminalized in CA so it won’t save on law enforcement. There will still be law enforcement, as with home break ins and dispensary shootings. You potheads might like a free for all pot explosion, but I’ve had enough with so-called medical marijuana.


Abby June 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!


Sarah June 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

*choked on my coffee* Thanks Abby!


Dixon Guizot June 29, 2010 at 10:07 am

Linda, I agree that the extra costs generated by each locality reviewing the issue and creating policy are unfortunate. But I’m not sure that these expenses won’t be outweighed by increased tax revenue. Oakland, for example, began taxing medicinal marijuana sales in 2009; the tax has already kicked an extra $1 million into the city’s coffers and the city is now looking at applying a similar tax to marijuana growers. If you have contrary data on expenses versus benefits, I’d be interested in reviewing it.

As for increased use by high schoolers and workplace protections, I’ll point out that the initiative would not change any laws affecting either of those. Marijuana would still be illegal for folks under 21, and anyone who provides marijuana to someone 20 or under would face stiff penalties. Employers of people of all ages would be free to test for drugs and penalize use as they do today.

Finally, given your endorsement of marijuana prohibition, I wonder if you’re an advocate of the prohibition of alcohol? Because just about everyone recognizes that alcohol causes way more problems than legal marijuana ever could.


Abby June 29, 2010 at 10:17 am

I don’t think this will cause a huge increase in home growing. You can grow your own opium poppies or build a still in your back yard, but most people won’t bother.

I don’t even understand why anyone would think this would mean more kids using weed, unless you are living with someone like Linda I guess.

Already the limited legal sales we have now are really hurting the drug cartels, and I think that’s a very good thing.


Richard Bunker July 2, 2010 at 12:28 pm

Abby June 29, 2010 at 10:17 am

I don’t think this will cause a huge increase in home growing. You can grow your own opium poppies or build a still in your back yard, but most people won’t bother.

I don’t even understand why anyone would think this would mean more kids using weed, unless you are living with someone like Linda I guess.

Already the limited legal sales we have now are really hurting the drug cartels, and I think that’s a very good thing.————————————-

I think it will cause everyone too grow. you have a twenty five square foot grow space. that does not limit on how much you can possess.

I can get a few hundred pounds of that much space. You could even build shelves, grow off the ceiling, floor, underground.

You could even grow twenty five feet straight up, the twenty five feet straight down. That would give 50 sq. ft. in a 25 ft. grow space that the law allows. It does not limit the height of the grow room just the floor space.

We cant grow our own opium. Opium is still illegal, but I know lots of people that make their own whiskey and beer.

I do, my friends do, My dad used too. I have been making drinks since I was thirteen. Ya, my mother was busy


M:-X June 29, 2010 at 10:52 am

You know you sound like a hate filled lunatic right? You realize that these pointless arguments about how legalizing marijuana will bring about the apocalypse and blah blah blah are what make nobody take you seriously right? But please… let’s take any one thing you happen to enjoy that’s not 100% the best for you and make it illegal for 40 years. Let you live in fear every single day because your f’n Aquafina or your 80/20 beef is illegal. Let’s make peanuts illegal since some people are very allergic… or caffeine because it’s the REAL gateway drug.

People like you probably think you are “conservative” and complain about government spending, but never think that it’s because of UNJUST ENFORCEMENT that we may have such a deficit.

The War on Drugs was enacted in 1970– that is roughly 4 times as long as we have been in Afghanistan, and the Afghan war is considered “the longest war in US history”


Kenloc June 29, 2010 at 11:28 am

Chill out and smoke a joint Linda.Kids can readily get pot if they want it,easier than they can get alcohol.They can huff from cans and do whatever to get high.It’s up to parents to enstill responsibility,not the law.Prisons aren’t full of pot users but they do have pot growers,dealers,etc. I agree with the tax dollar point.Why would you go buy taxed mj when you can grow your own for free?That’s the part of the law I don’t get.You say you have had enough with so-called medical marijuana.what happened?Did someone on medical marijuana rob you?Did they sell to your kids?are there stoners smokin medical mj all over your lawn?please elaborate.How has medical marijuana negatively impacted your life?


Brian June 29, 2010 at 12:13 pm

“Why would you go buy taxed mj when you can grow your own for free?”

The same reason I don’t brew my own beer “for free”. I’m lazy.


Abby June 29, 2010 at 12:36 pm

There is also the matter of selection. It’s nice to go to the store and have so many options.

And as someone how (trys) to grow their own vegetables, I know that just because you plant something doesn’t mean it’s going to make it to harvest. The bugs and animals are getting more of my garden than I am!


Dave Rice (a.k.a. psd/anonymouscoward) June 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Yeah. I’m a lot better at growing weeds than weed…


Kenloc June 29, 2010 at 2:50 pm

its much easier to grow a plant than to brew your own beer


Kenloc June 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I’ll take a pack of Purple Haze Lights, and a Humboldt Non-Filter please.You know Phillip Morris is ready to pounce when this passes.Wonder what other crap they’ll put in it to make it more addictive?What pesticides were used by the grower?More reasons to grow your own


tasha July 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

Those big cigg companys have already bought up a shit load of land up in the humbolt county …..and hell yeah they’ll put the same crap into the weed as they do cigarettes . Meet know and support your local farmers as you do shop your local farmers market and know how your lettuce is being grown, if you don’t have the resources or time to cultivate on your own. “Down to Gov. weed”.


Richard Bunker July 2, 2010 at 12:29 pm

not really


Caleb June 30, 2010 at 7:04 am

linda you are so delusional, pot doesn’t make you drop out of school for one. and this is about more than just the drug, its about the rights of the individual. how would you like it if everything you like to do was demonized and then criminalized by petty moralitys based on flawed logic? how would you like it if eating a certain kind of ice cream was illegal, or playing video games, or camping? because they’re considered dangerous too a certain extent? ice cream has fat in it it’ll make you fat we should make a law against it. video games induce seizures and makes kids homicidal thats got to go now too. and camping well theres fucking bears in the woods so we don’t want you too get eaten so we’ll charge you 5,000 dollars and put you in prison for oh lets say 5 years. “Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)” ayn rand. the question you need to ask yourself linda is are you content living out your life as a slave to your fellow man or die as an individual who had fought for what was right, knowing what it was too be truly human, knowing what the true potential of a human being was.


clubstyle_dj June 28, 2010 at 2:41 pm

California got things rolling (pun intended) with gay marriage too, and we see what happened there. I’m losing out on a lot of reception business… damnit.
LoL@bonghead couch potatoes …well …they’ve got incentive now!

(In the closet 420 friendly)


Abby June 28, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I’m really interested to find out if we’ll see a drop in other illegal drug use if marijuana becomes legal.


just my 2 cents June 29, 2010 at 6:52 am

Yeah I am sure the meth n heroin user will stop and switch “BACK” to weed….


Abby June 29, 2010 at 8:15 am

No, but a bet a lot of people might never try meth or heroin to begin with.


Dixon Guizot June 29, 2010 at 10:13 am

It’s a difficult issue to research, but at least one study has looked at whether legalizing marijuana would reduce the amount of use of other drugs — and concluded that legal weed would result in less use of the other stuff. Readers who appreciate the value of a scientific approach to questions like this can read the study here:

An excerpt: “40% used cannabis as a substitute for alcohol, 26% as a substitute for illicit drugs and 66% as a substitute for prescription drugs. The most common reasons given for substituting were: less adverse side effects (65%), better symptom management (57%), and less withdrawal potential (34%) with cannabis.”


Johnote June 28, 2010 at 5:48 pm

God bless America, could some of you guys lean on the British government just a little, over here they sacked the governments own drug advisor for suggesting they slightly slacken our ridiculous cannabis laws,
OR, how do I go about moving over there? hehe


Kenloc June 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

haha.Can you imagine the influx of pot smokers we will get from other places if it’s legal here? Talk about a population explosion


psd June 29, 2010 at 11:56 am

That’s something that should really be talked about: economic benefits of ‘pot tourism.’


stanknug July 9, 2010 at 8:36 pm

Just don’t move to Arizona… They’ll deport you to Mexico if you don’t have a green card!


Jose Melendez June 29, 2010 at 7:16 am

Long before the Tea Bag Party, an activist and publisher, Marc Emery of Canada stood up for his and all of our rights and sold cannabis seeds in political protest of US marijuana laws.

Today he is being punished for using the funds from his activism to promote legalization. Worse, he is in solitary confinement without appeal for breaking an unwritten rule against recording prison phone calls with his wife.

He is currently imprisoned for five years, extradited from his home country despite laws that prohibit political persecutions; certainly the total fine had he been charged north of the border would have been a minor fine and no jail time.

The law falsely claims: “Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, §812(c), based on its high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment, §812(b)(1). This classification renders the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana a criminal offense. §§841(a)(1), 844(a). Pp. 6—11.”

Millions have been arrested since DHHS applied for 2003 US Patent No. 6630507 in 1999, despite the title* of that federal document . . .

Wait, what’s DHHS? At the top of this page: has a direct link to the feedback page of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that was issued 2003 US Patent No. 6630507, “Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants”, linked here:
* source:

Don’t just blog. Free Marc Emery:

DHHS should remove raw cannabis from scheduling, it’s healthy food regardless of THC content and belongs untaxed as such. Artificial and manufactured cannabinoids may be appropriately listed in Schedule V.

Write or call:
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

Department of Justice 202-514-2000

Attorney General 202-353-1555

Drug War IS crime.


Jose Melendez June 29, 2010 at 7:17 am

Oops, here’s an update on Marc Emery, out of solitary but still awaiting sentencing:


fuzzy June 29, 2010 at 10:17 am

is marc emery kidding 5 lbs in 1 year in a 25sq ft garden indoors no way outdoors yes
come on marc no wonder u are going to jail u are an idiot…


Abby June 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

Dude, like did you smoke all your capital letters and punctuation or what?


CptnBob June 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm

He said up to 5lbs, I see that easily doable indoors in several different ways…stretch the imagination


art June 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I think its funny that we have the right to bear arms.. Im not aware of the procedure to get a weapon… but I know if there was some similair screening to have access to a limited amount of any drug.. clean drugs.. I couldnt say if it would even be close to as bad or dangerous to anyones health… with proper screening backround checks of health and whatnot… forgive me for my grammar if it has offended you..


Patty Jones June 29, 2010 at 7:57 pm

hey art, no worries on the grammar here, we won’t give you grief over it. Now some of the readers… now that might be another story! ;)


Jamaudra Shepherd July 1, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Thank you for this informative and eye-opening article on this upcoming political milestone. Not only for California but the entire country..


Diane5150 July 2, 2010 at 3:02 am

I vote.


Richard Bunker July 2, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I don’t care about the government law. Has anyone not seen Robin Hood. Just do what you know is right weather or not the law is wrong. Do what you think is right and fuck the boys in blue


read this July 6, 2010 at 10:50 am
fuzz July 8, 2010 at 10:06 am

lets not forget the great debate between lincolm and douglas
lincoln was asked about the races being equal
he said no to that but hey look what happened


Colorado Clones John March 28, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Thank you California for doing the groundwork. For many years Colorado residents petitioned to get a Colorado Medical Marijuana law on the books to no avail. The light at the end of the tunnel for us was when California passed their MMJ laws and we knew it was only a matter of time for us. Thank you for paving the way for us to have the choice of alternative medicine!


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