Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Prop 19 roils medical pot advocates


Demonstrators opposed to Proposition 19 speak out during a debate on the issue at the International Cannabis and Hemp Expo. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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The crowds showed up for last weekend's International Cannabis and Hemp Expo at the Cow Palace, but widespread support for Proposition 19, the legalization effort on the November ballot, was not in evidence.

At the same time new polls show increased public support for the statewide measure, known as the Regulate, Control, Tax Cannabis Act, while some medical marijuana advocates are expressing concern about it.

Among those is longtime marijuana advocate Dennis Peron, who authored Proposition 215, the California Compassionate Use Act, which voters passed in 1996. The act allows qualified patients to grow and use medicinal cannabis as recommended by their doctors.

Peron and others say that Prop 19 would restrict the area where marijuana can be grown to one 5 foot by 5 foot space per residence – apparently only enough for a handful of plants.

Peron also doesn't like that Prop 19 would prohibit use of marijuana in front of children.

He said Prop 19 backers are "acting like they're ashamed" of using marijuana.

Asked about Peron's comments, Richard Lee, a main backer of Prop 19, said the provision regarding children was included "because of second-hand smoke issues. You don't want kids getting affected by cannabis, right?"

Lee is also president of Oaksterdam University, which has a campus in Oakland and according to its website aims to "provide students with the highest quality training for the cannabis industry."

He said the grow area restriction won't change or limit how much can be grown for medical use. "The whole thing is written so it doesn't change or reduce any rights" for Prop 215 or Senate Bill 420, Lee explained. That bill, which the state Legislature passed in 2003, established a medical cannabis user ID card system and put forth regulations for providers.

But Prop 19 seems to be pitting medicinal cannabis growers and patients against recreational users.

"The recreational users are coming out of the closet" in the state "because they see an economic future in it for themselves," Kevin Reed, president of the Green Cross, which delivers medical cannabis in San Francisco, said in an e-mail to the Bay Area Reporter.

Lee, who uses a wheelchair as the result of an accident, wouldn't discuss his personal marijuana use. But he said "obviously" Prop 19's passage would mean cannabis growing operations would be "treated as regular business as opposed to being in the black market."

He said almost $2 million has been raised in support of Prop 19.

Heated debate

One of the highlights at last weekend's expo was a heated debate that took place between advocates and opponents of Prop 19.

One audience member said not to "make the perfect the enemy of the good" and encouraged support of Prop 19. But George Mull, president of the California Cannabis Association, called Prop 19 "deeply flawed and inadequate."

From the audience, Peron criticized Lee for not including him in the process. Lee said he had asked Peron to take part, but Peron had declined. Both spoke to the B.A.R. in phone interviews this week.

The federal government does not recognize Prop 215 or similar laws in 13 other states and Washington, D.C.

Since Prop 215's passage, the movement to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use has steadily grown, as more states moved to pass medicinal measures and the drug lost some of its stigma.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced some marijuana-related proposals of his own, including implementation legislation for Prop 19.

The out gay legislator is the author of Assembly Bill 2554, which like Prop 19 would legalize marijuana.

Separately, Ammiano introduced ABX6-9 to implement Prop19 in the event that voters pass it in November. The bill, introduced September 21, appears to address concerns of medical users.

"Proposition 19 allows the legislature to amend it by a majority vote as long as it is in line with the goals of the initiative. ... ABX6-9 establishes a uniform statewide regulatory system while retaining a local option for sales," said a statement released by Ammiano's office. "It also specifically excludes medical marijuana from fees and regulations in the act."

Lee has previously said that among the differences between his measure and AB2554 is that Ammiano's bill sets up a statewide system of sales and distribution by the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, while Prop 19 starts out by giving cities and counties the ability to tax and regulate sales and commercial cultivation how – and if – they want to. That opt-out provision may result in "dry" parts of the state when it comes to obtaining marijuana should the initiative pass.

In the statement, Ammiano referred to Prop 19 and said, "... [N]o initiative is perfect and the devil is in the details. My bill [ABX6-9] gives the legislature the ability to fine tune how California will regulate cannabis to ensure that it is done in an effective, systematic way."

Field Poll

A Public Policy Institute of California poll released late Wednesday showed 52 percent supported Prop 19 with 41 percent opposed. The poll of 1,104 likely voters had a plus or minus 3.6 percent sampling error.

A Field Poll released Saturday showed that slightly more of California's likely voters are inclined to vote yes than no – 49 percent to 42 percent – on Prop 19. An earlier July Field Poll found the initiative trailing by four points.

The latest Field Poll was conducted among 599 likely voters and had a sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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