An Open Letter to the Stoners Against Legalization: Don’t Let Paranoia Get the Best of You!

By Amanda Rain

Amanda Rain works for Oaksterdam University where she lectures on numerous topics, including patient's rights.

I understand paranoia.

After working for a dispensary that was under the watchful eye of the DEA, having called out undercovers that were at a dispensary operator meeting getting them to leave, and years of training medical marijuana patients how to handle police encounters to prevent being arrested and stay out of jail, I get how the imagination of the unknown can play tricks on a person, especially when they’re involved with a questionably legal activity.

I also get that there is great mistrust of government in our community, and broadly for good reason.  However, there are limits to what is probable, reasonable or viable, and it’s important to separate fear from what is real.

To help clear the haze and bring some grounded sobriety into this debate, I’ve addressed some of the biggest fears I’ve heard below.  After that I speak to my own experience of this issue, the story of my full-back tattoo (with pic:), and why I’m moved to vote yes, Yes, YES on Prop 19.  I close with some commentary on Richard Lee as someone who personally works for Oaksterdam University in LA.

My beautiful community, I ask for your consideration, open mindedness and imagination (absent the paranoia;) as you read my offerings…I consider you some of the most creative, inventive people I know.  If anyone can turn the fear into hope and the unknown into infinite potentiality, it is you!  I believe in you!

At the same time, I believe in Prop 19.  I also feel strongly with all the passion within me (and those who know me you know that’s a LOT! 😉 that Prop 19 is in our highest good.  For those who know the growth process intimately, sometimes transitions are scary, unknown and maybe even a little uncomfortable for a moment, but you also know that once you’re through to the other side you’re freer, lighter and better off than before, and in the case of Prop 19, safer and more protected.

1. It’s hard to watch the cannabis community divided against itself, especially with people like Steve Cooley running for Attorney General.

A wise woman once told me, “If to be divided is to be conquered, than to be separated is suicide.”  Instead of having a concerted effort to make sure that we defeat Cooley, which takes getting out into the general populous and swaying their votes, some within the community are focusing their voices and efforts on defeating Prop 19.  When patients on a daily basis are still getting arrested down here in Southern California for small amounts, large amounts and everything in between, it’s as if these dissenters, while some long time activists I’ve spoken to call these people traitors, are taking their privilege of residing in more accepting liberal areas and leaving the rest of us without shelter.  People in the North may be more prone to believing that medical makes you legal because local authorities there are more accepting, but that illusion down South is costly.  Cooley says that all sales of cannabis are illegal, medical or not doesn’t matter to him.  If elected, he will work to dismantle medical marijuana as we know it.  What’s been happening in Los Angeles would then be happening statewide.  For those concerned with what Prop 19 would do to the medical market, imagine if Cooley succeeds in “eradicating medical marijuana dispensaries” – those are his words, not mine.  Prop 19 would put it on the law books that sales of cannabis are legal under state law, which would take the wind out of Cooley’s sails, because if you can regulate for adult use, why not medical – this will benefit the activists in more hostile areas in their lobbying efforts with their local governments to get regulations, and thus greater protection from law enforcement, to protect patients, cultivators & providers.

2. While SB 1449 makes it a civil infraction for under an ounce while it leaves sharing cannabis (not sales – that’s still a felony) as a misdemeanor.

Moreover, most of the incarceration for cannabis happens because of sales, or intent to distribute, which can be having a good sum of money with a small amount of cannabis or other combination, that is filling our prisons.  While Prop 19 doesn’t legalize all sales between just anyone for any amount, it is a huge step in the right direction.  The amounts that people will be able to grow, accumulated over time, will amass to a significant amount of cannabis, as per Attorney J. David Nick’s analysis (which I came to myself from my experience training people on how to deal with cops and the legal knowledge that comes with that).  People will have an affirmative defense in court for amounts larger than an ounce for adult use (medical is exempted).  Considering that Prop 215 doesn’t make you fully legal (see #4), we’ve still been able to win many freedoms from having an affirmative defense in court.  The affirmative defense from Prop 19 will advance legal precedent for the freedom of cannabis consumers that much more.

3. Medical laws are exempted.

Not that it’s even necessary in that adult use is separate/different than medical use, to make absolutely sure there’s no confusion, Prop 19 exempts Prop 215 and SB 420, which are Health & Safety Code 11362.5 and 11362.7-9, in Purposes 7 (personal use) and 8 (cultivation & distribution).  Letiticia Pepper, the attorney that is cited as saying otherwise on the SAL blog is not credible.  Every attorney in the cannabis industry knows that H&S 11362.5 & 11362.7-9, while she insists that medical is not exempted and will be affected.  Even the “official” opposition to Prop 19 say that medical won’t be impacted by Prop 19, in addition to the Legislative Analysts Office (LAO) which does non-partisan analysis of propositions for elections.  Credible leaders within the medical movement all agree that Prop 19 will not impact medical status, limits or otherwise.

4. Medical patients are NOT legal under Prop 215 & SB 420.

What it does is give patients, cultivators & providers an affirmative defense in court.  That means that if caught, it’s up to the cop’s discretion how to handle each individual case.  Just the other week I spoke with a college student who is a “legal” patient that had her recommendation essentially ripped up by the cop who then arrested her for a small amount of concentrated cannabis.  We call this legal?!  Under the status quo of Prop 215 & SB 420, patients, cultivators & providers are guilty until proven innocent, not the other way around.  Cultivators are the least protected under the law, the most likely to get busted and most likely to do time for it, which I personally find unacceptable.  I feel our growers deserve greater protections from going to jail or prison for pot!  While Prop 19 doesn’t take us all the way there, it opens the door and makes it legal under CA law, clearly and explicitly, that growing cannabis can be regulated and thus legal (and licensing fees and business costs are still cheaper than court and better than incarceration).  Since most of the enforcement happens at a local level, having local laws regulating cannabis sales means that cops will have to back off!  I’m personally tired of listening to police & politicians indict the medical movement as a farce because people who don’t need it medically are getting it and using it (they also use this as justification to ban dispensing collectives), when there’s really little we can say to refute that.  Prop 19 will mean that everyone over 21 can have pot legally (in the truest definition of the word legal – innocent until proven guilty); then cops & politicians alike won’t be able to play doctor anymore.

5. Right now, under Prop 215 & SB 420 (CA Health & Safety Code 11362.5 & 11362.7-9), ALL sales are in a complete gray zone.

Still, cities & counties already have the legal authority to set rules on cannabis dispensation and over 40 cities and counties already have for medical purposes.   And yes, cities and counties get to regulate the “health, safety, morals, and general public welfare” whether we like it or not.  (Side note: it’s interesting to me that some people involved in the cannabis industry are so accustomed to the lawlessness of it that when they get a chance to become legal, they seem to prefer to stay criminals for profit margins, which I ultimately find rather disturbing considering how unspeakably awful jails and prisons are, and that paying licensing fees and taxes would still be less than having to defend oneself in criminal court to prove their innocence and medical status.) Some localities are also already taxing medical cannabis in addition to what the State Board of Equalization takes from sales taxes.  The many cities and counties that have banned often cite the vagueness and lack of clarity in the law under Prop 215 and SB 420 and when faced with regulating what they see as questionably legal, they opt out.  Prop 19 will make it clear and put it on California’s law books that sales are legal and give patients, growers & providers the opportunity to work with their local government (where they have the strongest influence vs. the state and federal level where corporations play politicians like puppets hanging on their purse strings).  I’ve seen the political process work on a local level.  Also, considering the acceptance of cannabis, the significance of the industry on the economy of Northern California, and that people are already well established in their relationships with their political leaders, there will be a willingness amongst politicians in the North to make Prop 19 work for their communities.

6. Big business isn’t going to come in and take over.

Corporations will not take the legal risk of doing something federally illegal, period.  I don’t care how big a conspiracy theorist you are, think about it for a minute.  Do you really think that a large American corporation will risk losing their assets to the feds through asset forfeiture?  They have too much to lose.  That’s why we’ve not seen RJ Reynolds in medical, nor will we see them in cannabis until it’s federally legal.  New York ended their state prohibition on alcohol 10 years before the federal law was repealed.  Since we can’t even get the feds to reschedule cannabis for medical use, we’re likely at least another 10 years off from adult use being legal countrywide (while I do look forward to seeing that day!).  That means, in real world terms, the people who are currently leading the way in medical (Steve DeAngelo, Chris Conrad, Jeff Jones, Richard Lee, Rob Raich, Debby Goldsberry, etc. etc. etc.) will have the opportunity to shape how adult use evolves.  All the cities I’ve seen interviewed on this have said they want to see cannabis dispensed to adults out of a similar venue as medical – specialty places dedicated to cannabis – not the corner 7-11 or heaven-forbid Wal-Mart. AND large-scale grows are already happening under medical – imagine these grows coming into being without the additional market of adult users (and tourists:) to add more demand to keep up with production.  Whether you like it or not, Oakland has already approved 4 warehouse sized grows for medical purposes.  This is happening with or without Prop 19.  That is not a reason to vote against Prop 19.  In addition to the new/increased auxiliary businesses that will be created, the adult-use commercial market is going to be slow to establish itself similar to Prop 215 (passed in 1996, explosion of dispensaries didn’t happen until 10 years later).  Lastly, I will say that if you don’t like the way business is done in America, that is a separate issue that needs to be addressed in its own right – that is not a reason to vote against Prop 19.  Since Prop 19 leaves it to local governments, that means we have time to organize and work with our local authorities before big business will be willing to enter the market (after it’s federally legal – still a number of years off).  That means in real-world terms and analysis, what we have before us with Prop 19 is the opportunity to shift the way business happens in America by shaping how cannabis sales occur in California.  That’s HUGE!!!!  That is the forest beyond the trees…

7. While it is possible a decrease in profit margins may occur over time, it won’t be immediate since Prop 19 has to be implemented on the local level.

The only immediate result is that adults over 21 won’t be a criminal for small amounts of pot, smell won’t be probable cause anymore (WOW that thought makes me excited as that’s the hardest thing to manage!), and cops & politicians won’t be able to play doctor with patients anymore!  The commercial regulation part of Prop 19 is most likely to be challenged by the feds if a challenge occurs, while the individual rights will remain (and medical is exempted, so adult use limits WILL NOT apply to patients with doctor’s recommendations).  If commercial regulation survives, I don’t think the bottom will completely fall out of the market, nor will the niche market of high quality cannabis disappear.  Just as with wines, the high-end wines still have a market, still bring in a high dollar amount, and plenty of mid-size wineries exist.  There’s no reason (besides stoner paranoia) to think high end cannabis will lose its reverence and value within our community.  And I have to say, we have more power than we own, more voice than we share, and more ability to shape our world that we exercise. We can act like the “default world” doesn’t exist all we want, but that doesn’t make it disappear, and that won’t bring us to the solution we want to see for our highest evolution. I keep thinking of how the Kennedys were bootleggers back in the day, then they become legislators, policy-makers that have shaped our world.  I happen to know some pretty amazing people involved with cannabis and think they would be great as politicians, especially those with pro-environment stances.  Another great possibility with this is that people will become inspired to engage in the political process to shape our future, which is a critical endeavor in this time of transition, and make our world a better place to live in.

8.  Any impact of Prop 19 will not be immediate and the market won’t bottom out the way Rand predicted.

Their study was based on Tom Ammiano’s bill of $50/ounce tax, not Prop 19.  Also, it doesn’t account for increased expenses that are the cost of doing business, like health insurance, licensing fees, payroll taxes (like ‘em or not, unpaid taxes can land you in jail/prison :/).  I’ve continually been impressed with our community’s ability to reinvent itself and stay ahead of the curve; I think Prop 19 will be no different.  I whole heartedly believe that we can both thrive and turn the possibilities that are before us with Prop 19 into game changing win-win scenarios that are mutually beneficial for our community and the country/world at-large.  And for those who still want profits over legality (or freedom as I like to call it), there are 49 other states they can sell their cannabis to.

9. The other complaint lodged against Prop 19 is that it creates a new law affecting 18-20 year olds.

What Prop 19 did here was model the law that currently exists for providing alcohol to people 18-20 year olds.  However you feel about kids and drugs, even 18-20 year olds, the ability of youth to use illicit drugs legally will never pass a vote of either the people or state legislators.   Remember, the drug war is for the kids after all, mmmkay? Or at least that’s what they want us to believe, but that still has resonance with the soccer moms who are the swing voter in this election.  Keep in mind that those who are medical patients will still be medical and therefore protected under Prop 215.  Prop 215 stands and cannot be amended by Prop 19, so anything that is currently legal, illegal, or in a gray zone under 215 will remain the same.  That said, you should know that under the medical laws, as it currently stands under Prop 215 & SB 420, you can have your kids taken from you by CPS.  Sadly, it happens all the time.

10. Some are complaining about the size limits of Prop 19 for personal use, while cumulatively over cycles of growth in 5×5 spaces, that will add up to much more than 1 oz, all of which is legal to possess (not travel with per se, but possess).

This means that adults over 21 will have an affirmative defense in court for amounts greater than the limits Prop 19 sets.  Again, medical is exempted and guaranteed under Prop 215, so if people want/need more for medical purposes, they can have that.

11. There’s a fundamental lack of understanding of legal language.

Purpose 13, for example, is written in standard legal language and asserts the right of California to care for the “health, morals, public welfare and safety within the State,” thus reasserting California’s right, not the Feds, to enact the initiative as part of its duty for this care.  This is the States’ Rights provision that claims our ability to regulate cannabis despite federal law.  Still, some activists have needlessly looked at this provision with fear and skepticism.   And for those who say that medical is going to be impacted, I have to wonder if the piece that’s missing for them is that Prop 215 and SB 420 are the equivalent to CA Health & Safety Code 11362.5 & 11362.7-9.  The other side of the fears in the medical community are from those who are currently profiting from it and fear losing some of their pie instead of seeing the forest beyond their trees and that there will be enough fruit to fill even more pies than they could ever possibly eat.

12. Opportunities like this don’t come around very often.

The last time California had this chance was 1972.  The way that politics works is that people only fund that which they think will win.  Donating money to political campaigns is not a tax write-off, making it less attractive to large funders.  Future initiatives and efforts are likely to be impacted by our vote on Prop 19.

13. Prop 19 has a provision within it to allow it to be amended at a later time by either a future voter referendum or state legislation, which means that unlike Prop 215 that has challenges we are forced to live with because we can’t amend it, we can change things that don’t work in Prop 19.

Considering the last time legalization was on the ballot was 38 years about, and it only took 7 years to get SB 420 passed about Prop 215, I’d much rather take my chances passing Prop 19 and fixing it later, than wait another 20+ years to free this crucial plant for our health, environment and well-being.  Just Say NOW!!!!!

14. When we look at who is against Prop 19, we see cops, prosecutors, the prison lobby, the feds, etc.

To vote against Prop 19 is to align with those who would rather see us in prison than be productive members of society.  It is personally beyond me how anyone who is a friend to cannabis and cannabis consumers (patients or not) can in good conscious vote against a bill that would bring us a step closer toward being fully legal and protecting those in our community who take the most risks.

In addition to my belief that Prop 19 is well written, taking into account the historically conservative political climate that is mid-term elections, the potential for a federal challenge (a big reason for local regulation and not mandated throughout the state – the feds get to regulate commerce), and the need for change now (who knows what 2012 will bring, we’re ripe for change now with failing economies and low approval rates for politicians who are against legalization), the following is what is truly at the heart of my advocacy.  Cannabis, and cannabis policy specifically, is what woke me up from my conditioned slumber, the prison industrial complex is what will keep me working on ending the drug war until I take my last breaths…  here’s why…

The War on Drugs has been an abject failure, succeeding at one thing – turning the land of the free into the world’s leading jailer.  I cannot support the prison industrial complex, I cannot vote alongside the prison guards and prosecutors, I cannot support the continuation of this drug war that has devastated our inner cities, entire countries in South America and people’s lives the world over.  Even while Prop 19 won’t resolve everything, it is an important next step in dismantling the War on Drugs, of which cannabis is a cornerstone issue.  Our prisons are modern day slavery and every step toward bringing justice to the injustice is an important one that I whole heartedly embrace.  The 13th Amendment that abolished slavery has an exception clause in it: “except as punishment for a crime for which one has been duly convicted.”  Then we have disproportionate enforcement adding up to more Blacks (prosecuted at 4-10 times more than whites) and Hispanics (prosecuted at 3 times as much as whites) filling jails and prisons while there are more white people who use drugs.  It is for the selling of drugs that most people are incarcerated.  We criminalize the market (sales) around cannabis yet overlook the use, while enforcement is largely targeted toward underserved communities.  I believe that our children are going to look back at our time and wonder why we didn’t do something, similar to the way we wonder how people could even think to enslave a human now.  Today, prisoners are moved around the way slaves were traded then.  They also work for pennies for our corporations to have commissary.  We can’t even keep drugs out of prisons, who are we fooling that we can get them off our streets?

If you ask me why I’m voting for Prop 19, it’s because the injustice has to end.  Opportunities like Prop 19 don’t come around every day, or even every few years for that matter (77 years of prohibition and 38 years since our last opportunity for legalization on the state level).  Politics is based on momentum as much as it is centered around money.  Each piece of change builds upon the next.  I know Prop 19 won’t resolve our prison crisis; however, every step toward that direction will build the momentum toward a tipping point that will allow us to reform our prisons, and cannabis being the cornerstone of the drug war with the greatest use among the populous, it is significant and will have far reaching impacts beyond our imaginations, beyond our personal situations, and bring us into a time of personal responsibility, reason in our laws and sanity in our policies.

Amanda Rain's Tattoo

In 2003-2004, I tattooed my back, my full back, in dedication to this sacred plant, and its resurrection to help heal humanity and the Earth.  The wisdom and strength of the dragon rooted in history and tradition that dates beyond our written memory of time takes the scroll that reads Tai Ma (Great Hemp) in Chinese and passes it off to the Phoenix that Ma can rise from the ash of oppressive prohibition and criminality to be born again in fullest glory and beauty for the betterment of humanity and the collective experience of life on Earth.

I ask you to join me in voting Yes on Prop 19 that this Dream become reality, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their children into the next seven generations, that they may have a world worth inheriting.  In my fullest of hearts, I believe freeing the cannabis plant is key to that Dream unfolding, becoming and actualizing in its fullest potential.

Some commentary on Richard Lee…  As someone who worked for Don Duncan with Americans for Safe Access from 2005-2006, I can say that the explosion of dispensaries came before Oaksterdam University even existed (founded in Nov. 2007).  The explosion in LA was well under way by then (2006) and the only other state that OU has been is Michigan, while Colorado is the other state that has experienced explosive growth. As someone who works for Oaksterdam University in Los Angeles, I can say that our goal isn’t to explode dispensaries all over the country.  It’s to teach people to be safe and responsible in the cannabis industry, something I can tell you from my days with ASA is seriously needed!  Many people get into this industry not knowing anything about business, politics, or even the laws around cannabis in California, yet they get into it anyway.  I can also say from personal experience that many people that come through our program leave less willing to get into the industry than they were before they came.  Richard is a Republican, and hence a businessman, however, he’s not looking at taking over or monopolizing the state’s industry.  If he were, one would think he would have already expanded his dispensary business into other areas, which he has not done and the only reason OU is anywhere but Oakland is that other competent people stepped up to make it happen.  I personally think that someone putting the money where their mouth is to the extent that Richard did is admirable…I saw a report that said he earned $1.5 million from OU, which happens to be the same amount he put up to get Prop 19 on the ballot.  Putting all the money earned back into advancing the industry it was earned from, to create greater safeguards from prosecution and arrest, to freeing this versatile plant from generations of reefer madness, is more than I can say for most people involved in the cannabis industry.

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