It’s A Gray Area: Regulate marijuana like wine
In my public discussions about our nation’s failed and hopeless policy of marijuana prohibition, I often say that Proposition 19 actually won the election last November, but we will simply be delaying implementation for two years.
I say that for two reasons. First, Proposition 19 was so successful in legitimizing the discussion about the failure of marijuana prohibition both statewide and nationwide, and even worldwide, that people for the first time have actually started to think seriously about the issue. And that is really all we need, because what we are doing today simply doesn’t make sense.
Second, in some of my debates on Proposition 19, numbers of people, including several chiefs of police, stated publicly that they had no problem treating marijuana like alcohol, but they did not like some specific provisions of Proposition 19 and therefore opposed it. Many voters felt exactly the same way.
So since November, quite a few people involved in marijuana drug law reform have been working to craft a new initiative, the Regulate Marijuana like Wine Act of 2012, and its basic provisions are as follows:
All California laws that prohibit marijuana possession, use, sales, distribution, cultivation, etc. by people who are 21 and older would be repealed, except for those pertaining to driving a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana; using or being impaired by marijuana in public or in the workplace; the use, possession, sales, etc. of marijuana by people younger than 21; providing, transferring or selling marijuana to a person younger than 21; or any laws or regulations regarding medical marijuana as set forth by Proposition 215 and its related statutes. All of those laws and regulations would expressly remain in effect.
The proposal then breaks down what we now call marijuana into two classifications. The first is marijuana with a THC or “potency” level of 3% or higher, which would be governed by regulations, taxes and fees that use the wine industry as a model. But, importantly enough, the act would not permit state, county or city governments to use their taxing, zoning or licensing authority as a means to thwart the provisions of the initiative, unless those regulations would also be applicable to the wine industry.
Marijuana with a THC level of less than 3%. would be classified as hemp, and would be governed by the same regulations, taxes and fees that use the cotton industry as a model. Of course the hemp industry goes back thousands of years, such that in ancient Greek the word for “canvas” was the same word as “cannabis,” or marijuana. Similarly, the plantations owned by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and many other planters grew large crops of hemp, which were used for things like rope, gunny sacks and coarse cloth.
Since the colonial period the uses of hemp have been greatly expanded. For example, today manufacturers can get four times the amount of paper pulp from an acre of hemp as they can from an acre of trees. Furthermore, the hemp crop can be raised in one season of about eight months, while it takes about 20 years to grow the trees. This means that the paper pulp industry in the northwest United States could be reclaimed, along with all of the jobs, revenues and taxes that this would entail.
The proposal would also prohibit all commercial advertising of the sales, distribution and use of marijuana, except for medical marijuana and products made from industrial hemp. This would go a long way in taking the glamour out of marijuana, especially for children.
After Holland decriminalized marijuana back in the 1970s, its minister of health stated that they had only half the marijuana usage per capita in their country as we do in ours — for both adults and for teenagers! And he went on to explain why by saying that “we have succeeded in making pot boring.” A system in which marijuana is no longer sold illegally and also is not advertised commercially will achieve the same results.
Another main purpose of the initiative would be to deprive Mexican drug cartels, juvenile street gangs and other thugs of large amounts of money, while at the same time providing significant amounts of tax revenues to city, county and state governments to use for things like fixing potholes and educating children.
In addition, many medical and legal professionals believe that in many ways marijuana is actually less harmful than my drug of choice, alcohol. So if adults choose to use marijuana instead of alcohol, the governments, as a matter of freedom and liberty, should not be able to prohibit them from doing so.
Yes, the use, possession, growing and sale of marijuana and hemp would still be illegal under federal law, and the proposal recognizes that fact. But if the federal government still wants to enforce its laws of marijuana prohibition it will be forced to do so alone, because the proposal would prohibit anyone working for or contracting with any of our state, county or city governments from cooperating with any such investigations, prosecutions, punishments or forfeitures, as long as the subjects were acting within the provisions of the proposal.
So what are your thoughts? This proposal is still only in draft form, so give it some consideration. We would both appreciate and benefit from your suggestions and comments.
JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of “Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed and What We Can Do About It: A Judicial Indictment of the War on Drugs” (Temple University Press, 2001), and can be contacted at JudgeJimGray@sbcglobal.net or https://www.JudgeJimGray.com.