Prop. 19 Failure Means Advocates Have Clean Slate

BY ALLISON MARGOLIN

 The passage of Proposition 19 in California would have marked the beginning of the end of the drug war in the United States. Sadly, the ballot initiative failed, but even the fact of it making it to the ballot, not to mention garnering over 40 percent of the vote in a non-presidential election year is a success. Even if we have not the found the beginning of the end, we have started chipping away at the mentality that led us to this irrational and immoral place.

 Prop. 19 was a bill whose passage would have legalized and regulated marijuana as well as allowed for the use, cultivation, and sale of marijuana with some limitations.

 The initiative would have also allowed cities to allow and tax sales, though the proposed statute did not provide a mechanism for state taxation.

The initiative also indicated that employees should not be subject to discrimination in hiring practices nor be fired on the sole basis that the employer is able to ascertain that they use marijuana. Nothing permitted marijuana use by employees at work or in any way that impaired work. In fact, under the statute, any industry could decide that use was a safety issue and arguably be immune from the general language of the statute. 

Unfortunately, the message did not get out about Prop. 19, at least not the correct one. Many in the medical marijuana community voted against it. Some did for greedy reasons, thinking that legalizing recreational use and sales would cut into their businesses. Others were offended by the proposed increase in criminal penalties for furnishing marijuana. Prop. 19 proposed an amendment to Section 11361 of the California Health and Safety Code that would have created a new misdemeanor for those persons aged 21 or over who furnish marijuana to persons aged 18, 19, or 20. Currently, furnishing under an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by no more than a $100 fine.

I believe that the next time around, the legalization bill should completely legalize the cultivation, use, and sale of marijuana. Furthermore, it should be written by attorneys and marijuana legalization advocates who appreciate the current hurdles in the law regarding marijuana and understand how they can be overcome.

I believe that we have the inalienable right to alter our consciousness and that criminalizing drug use and sales is not the way to deal with the public health effects of drug abuse.

Currently, people face life sentences in federal court and in some states for drug crimes. The federal law still has severe mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenders, including some marijuana defendants. Defendants with only one prior misdemeanor can face potential sentences of ten years to life for growing over 1000 marijuana plants and can only avoid these penalties by informing or by negotiating a plea that generally involves prison time of over three years.

The Controlled Substances Act currently classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, a drug with no medical purposes . Cocaine, likewise, is a Schedule I drug. We need to make it clear to our federal legislators that they should reschedule marijuana and that no one on either side of the political fence can really challenge providing marijuana to those who need it and immunizing those who grow for aid from prosecution.

The next Prop. 19 campaign in California needs to focus on the sadness of the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, and sons and daughters of those incarcerated for drug offenses. We must not forget the incarcerated themselves. These individuals, some of whom must spend time in custody when they can’t afford bail, face sub-animal conditions, cops on steroids, and, of course, the violent defendants they are housed with.

Drug use and abuse are social and pubic health issues. But these drug laws started as purity laws in a progressive effort to stop pharmaceutical companies from addicting their unknowing customers to substances like heroin and cocaine added to common products like cough medicine and soft drinks. We have lost sight of these original goals.

The idea of families being forced to turn on their friends and neighbors and other members of their community, is the 1984-esque reality of mandatory minimums and misguided policy. Unfortunately, the stigma against hard drug and even marijuana use has led to a political reality where those most affected by drug laws are disenfranchised. That’s why we need to rally for them and end the human suffering that constitutes the drug war.

Allison Margolin ‘02 is LA’s self-described “dopest attorney.” In addition to the criminal law practice she heads with her father, she has written and lectured about sex and drug law. 

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