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legalization | 12.10.2019

California’s Proposition 64: Understanding The Downside

Truly informed citizens must understand both the pros and cons of any important social issue to make intelligent decisions at the voting booth.

There are several logical reasons for voters in California to support Proposition 64 on November 8. Also known as AUMA, or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the ballot initiative will, if it passes, allow adults to legally possess, consume, and share cannabis and concentrates. But most highly politicized social policy debates feature a downside. AUMA is no exception. Read on to learn what many big corporations don’t want voters in The Golden State to know.

Beyond the politicized positives

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There are many valid reasons for supporting California’s Proposition 64. These include reduced arrests and incarcerations (saving the state millions of dollars each year) and increased tax revenues (helpful for the maintenance of schools and roads).

The proposed law’s high-tech seed-to-sale tracking system is intended to squelch criminal activity and curb the diversion of legal cannabis into the black market.  

Truly informed citizens, however, must understand both the pros and cons of any important social issue to make intelligent decisions at the voting booth. So let’s dig beyond the hype machine and propaganda.

California Legislature could amend AUMU

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Letitia Pepper, Director of Legal and Legislative Analysis at Crusaders for Patients’ Rights in California, is a pro-cannabis attorney and a leading authority on the topic of pot legalization in her state. She is also adamantly opposed to Proposition 64. Pepper has published her findings here.

She has painstakingly analyzed the language of the proposition, has been educating voters in her state about AUMA. She says the State Legislature would be able to make any changes to the law that it desires, including completely banning cannabis, with a simple majority of 51%.

[Californians] have no protections at all under AUMA. One reason you don’t have those protections is that Section 10 lets [the legislature] amend the Act. 

[The] Section 10 amendment… gives the State Legislature the right to change pretty much anything in the Adult Use of Marijuana Act except it’s purpose. And it’s purpose is to raise tax money. So they’re not going to change the purpose [of the Act], which is to tax, control, and regulate marijuana as much as possible. – Pepper

AUMA taxes won’t reach municipalities

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A public debate conducted in September by Capital Weekly and Capital Public Radio featured panel members who both opposed and supported Proposition 64. One of the opponents was Lauren Michaels, a representative of the California Police Chiefs Association.

Michaels explained that predicted cost increases at the local and county levels of government will not be offset by real increases in tax revenue,

96% of…[police] chiefs say that their local enforcement costs will either go up or stay the same under Prop 64. And that’s because the regulations are on the backs of locals. Unless they apply for a grant, they [won’t] see a dime from the tax revenue from Prop 64.

Pro-pot attorney Pepper agrees,

A special, and unusual, provision in AUMA provides that none of these [cannabis] taxes will go to benefit the General Fund, or to public schools or community colleges.

In fact, the language of the law allows the State Legislature, with a two-thirds majority, to actually increase taxes, all while funneling none of the funds to municipalities.   

Fear of corporate takeover under AUMA

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Many cannabis legalization advocates fear that AUMA will open the door to overbearing corporations that will be too sharply focused on profits and shareholder dividends, to the detriment of consumers and communities.

Pepper, in a September video, refers to the fact that some corporations are preparing for AUMA by quietly developing cannabis distribution infrastructure.

[It’s] not just the big pharmaceutical companies. The big alcohol and tobacco distributors [are] already building distribution centers in California. I like to remind people that what’s happened in California [over the past 20 years] has been non-profit. That means people can produce and grow and use and sell marijuana, not for profit, but [they] can make a living. 

Pepper cautioned voters to avoid blindly accepting a proposition that is receiving plenty of corporate and celebrity backing.

That’s why the big corporations are coming in and trying to get people to vote for this because it creates a for-profit system. If we wanna keep California a place that’s good for people to live, where people can support their families, we need to keep work and farming here.

Adding fuel to the anti-AUMA fire, Charlo Greene, owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club and a leading national cannabis activist, told an audience in Portland in July,

Any person who cares about social justice first, before business, should vote no for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in California.  

AUMA creates new felonies

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Many are surprised to learn that AUMA creates new felonies, misdemeanors, and infractions. In fact, those caught in violation of the law (such as possession of excessive amounts of cannabis or with an open container in a vehicle) could receive serious jail time for such an infraction.

According to Pepper,

AUMA…even sends minors caught growing marijuana to jail for 16 months, two years, or three years.

To many activists, a three-year jail sentence doesn’t sound like “legalization.” 

Predicted to pass by about a 60% majority, Californians will very likely wake on November 9 to legal adult use cannabis. The results of this major shift, however, remain to be seen.

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