Response to Sean Kiernan Weed for Warriors Project attack on Prop. 64
Veterans, disenfranchised will benefit from legalization
By Chris Conrad, court-qualified cannabis expert witness
I read your article posing a question to Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom asking why veterans should support Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the California initiative that has turned in ample signatures to qualify for the November 2016 ballot. While I cannot speak for Mr. Newsom, I will respectfully answer your questions about Prop. 64.
We have common ground on our core principles. Yes, we incarcerate too many Americans for non-violent drug crimes. Focusing law enforcement’s assets for its war against cannabis on the poor and vulnerable is unconscionable. Our institutional response to the needs of veterans is failing miserably and many vets end up in those targeted communities. Low-income communities need fair and affordable access to cannabis.
There were several inaccuracies in your analysis. First, the proposed excise tax on California cannabis is 15% [AUMA 34011], not 25% (that’s Colorado). Second, the legislature’s medical marijuana regulations MMRSA are not part of the initiative. AUMA controls nonmedical marijuana. Finally, Jeremy Daw did not say in theLeafOnline.com that AUMA would harm veterans; he wrote, “This is an initiative by business, for business — but one which takes pains to make space for inclusion and innovation.”
Prop. 64 is good for veterans and disenfranchised
So, here is why I believe the AUMA initiative is good for veterans, people of color and disenfranchised communities and deserves your support on the November ballot.
Let’s begin with the fact that the new law repeatedly states that it protects medical marijuana patients’ current rights [AUMA 11362.45(i), et al.] and it adds new custodial [11362.84] and privacy rights [11362.713]. This initiative covers nonmedical use [Section 3. Purpose and intent], but adult patients have access to all its benefits or they can take advantage of their status as medical users.
AUMA would give everyone over the age of 21 the right to possess, carry, share or buy up to an ounce of marijuana and have a small garden without having to go to a doctor for an approval. That saves patients’ money and means that low-income people no longer have to pay for a recommendation to have access or be screened out of the dispensaries when it expires. This also helps vets who rely on the VA for their medical care — knowing the conflict with federal law, many VA docs are reluctant to approve cannabis.
Prop. 64 stops unwarranted searches
Under current law, your doctor’s note does not protect you from search. Under AUMA, an adult having that ounce or less of bud will no longer be the basis for a police search [11362.1(c)] unless you consent to it (don’t consent). And who is more likely to be subject to that search, a white businessman at home or a homeless African American veteran out on the streets? We all know the answer.
In a typical year in California, 13,000 people are arrested on felony marijuana charges, mostly people of color and many of them veterans. Most of these begin with a simple encounter with law enforcement in which a small amount of cannabis, or even an odor, is used as probable cause to initiate a search and build a felony case. Many current felonies are eliminated by AUMA, and only in aggravating circumstances will there be risk of being charged with wobblers. In other words, the initiative essentially orders the cops to stand down and leave cannabis consumers alone.
Prop. 64 protects Prop. 215 and medical marijuana patients
There are still good reasons why a veteran or a patient with a chronic condition would want to get a physician’s approval, of course. For example if they need to keep more than an ounce on hand or if they need to grow more than six plants, AUMA protects their Prop 215 defense for any “reasonable amount” [11362.3(f)]. Likewise, AUMA brings down the price of getting a state medical marijuana card and exempts patients with that card from having to pay sales tax on their marijuana purchases.
AUMA allows people to grow and give away marijuana on a personal scale for free, as long as it is not more than one ounce at a time. So veterans will still be able to provide for each other. The on-site consumption license will give people a place off the street where they can use their cannabis, like a coffee shop but for cannabis consumption.
Prop. 64 creates new jobs and opportunities
When it comes to the commerce, more avenues are available for groups to help vets and low-income people. Businesses are forbidden to “Discriminate between different sections, communities, or cities or portions thereof” [26052.(a)(5)] With 17 levels of licenses available, a non-profit mutual benefit group could enter the nonmedical business market to raise money to fund veteran services or pay the taxes for low-income individuals. The AUMA restrictions on giving away commercial marijuana require that taxes be paid on any items given out for free and that they cannot be provided as a promotion or to undercut competitors to create a monopoly. As far as to whether they can be given as non-promotional gifts is not clear, but to whatever extent medical marijuana rights protects those activities now, they will continue to do so.
Moreover, the AUMA initiative visualizes special benefits for non-profits and, particularly, entities “operating on a not-for-profit basis primarily providing whole-plant marijuana and marijuana products and a diversity of marijuana strains and seed stock to low income persons”. [26070.5(a)(3)]. This appears to dovetail with the goals of groups like Weed for Warriors and others who want to bring access to underserved communities.
Outreach to disenfranchised and homeless youth
On top of all this, AUMA’s tax will be used to channel up to $50 million per year to qualified community-based nonprofit organizations to support job placement, mental health treatment, substance use disorder treatment, system navigation services, legal services to address barriers to reentry, and linkages to medical care for communities disproportionately affected by past federal and state drug policies. [34019.(d)].
Add to all this the human dignity issues of veterans who use cannabis being given legal respect and treated as equal members of society, the resentencing and expunging of criminal records that will open up new opportunities to vets who’ve been held back by old marijuana busts and the fact that they will be eligible to work at or even get a license to open their own cannabusiness.
All in all, veterans and disenfranchised communities stand to gain a lot from passage of Prop. 64 the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and encourage everyone to support it.
(Chris Conrad is co-author of the Newbie’s Guide to Cannabis and the Industry).