Cannabis in California
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The recent history of Cannabis in California comprises a number of legislative, legal, and cultural events surrounding use of marijuana, hashish, and cannabis. California was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, enacted by Proposition 215 in 1996 and California Senate Bill 420 in 2003. Prop. 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, was approved by state voters with a 55% majority, allowing people with cancer, AIDS and other chronic illnesses the right to grow or obtain marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. SB 420, or the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis and established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients.
In 2009, Tom Ammiano introduced the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, which would remove penalties under state law for the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for persons over the age of 21. When the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 4 to 3 vote in January 2010, this marked the first time in United States history that a bill legalizing marijuana passed a legislative committee. While the legislation failed to reach the Assembly floor, Ammiano plans on re-introducing his bill later in the year or waiting to see how a ballot measure for legalization fares in November 2010.
In 1973, California's neighboring state of Oregon became the first state to decriminalize cannabis. While laws vary from state to state, decriminalization of marijuana (which treats the possession of small amounts of the drug as a civil, rather than a criminal, offense) was established in July 1976 when the Legislature passed Senate Bill 95. Proposition 18, a ballot proposition previously attempting to decriminalize marijuana, was defeated in the November 1972 state election by a 66.5% majority. SB 95 made possession one ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine, with higher punishments for amounts greater than one ounce, for possession on school grounds, or for cultivation.
Proposition 36 (also known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000) was approved by 61% of voters, requiring that "first- and second-offense drug violators be sent to drug treatment programs instead of facing trial and possible incarceration." Marijuana remains decriminalized in California today.
California's medical marijuana program was established when state voters approved Proposition 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996) on the November 5, 1996 ballot with a 55% majority. The proposition added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code, modifying state law to allow people with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or other chronic illnesses the "legal right to obtain or grow, and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor". The law also mandated that doctors not be punished for recommending the drug, and required that federal and state governments work together "to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need." Proposition 215 does not affect federal law, which still prohibits the cultivation and possession of marijuana.
Vague wording became a major criticism of Prop. 215, though the law has since been clarified through California Supreme Court rulings and the passage of subsequent laws. To differentiate patients from non-patients, Governor Gray Davis signed California Senate Bill 420 (also known as the Medical Marijuana Protection Act) in 2003, establishing an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. SB 420 also allows for the formation of patient collectives, or non-profit organizations, to provide the drug to patients. Medical marijuana ID cards are issued through the California Department of Public Health's Medical Marijuana Program (MMP). The program began in three counties in May 2005, and expanded statewide in August of the same year. 37, 236 cards have been issued throughout 55 counties as of December 2009.
Critics of California's program argue that marijuana has become quasi-legal, as "anyone can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana at any time for practically any ailment". Acknowledging that there are instances in which the system is abused and that laws could be improved, Stephen Gutwillig of the Drug Policy Alliance Network insists that the passages of Proposition 215 is "nothing short of incredible". Gutwillig argues that because of the law, 200,000 patients in the state now have safe and affordable access to medical marijuana to relieve pain and treat medical conditions, without having to risk arrest or buy the drug off the black market. Twelve other U.S. states have followed California's lead to enact medical marijuana laws of their own: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
On February 23, 2009, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D) introduced the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, a proposed bill that would "remove all penalties under California law for the cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, and use of marijuana, natural THC and paraphernalia by persons over the age of 21" and "prohibit local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal marijuana laws". The bill would help with battling the 2008–2010 California budget crisis by allowing the state to regulate and tax its sale at $50 per ounce. According to Time, California tax collectors estimate the bill would raise about $1.3 billion a year in revenue.
Critics such as John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers' Association, argue that too many people already struggle with alcohol and drug abuse, and legalizing another mind-altering substance would lead to a "surge" of use, making problems worse. Apart from helping the state's budget by enforcing a tax on the sale of cannabis, proponents of the bill argue that legalization will reduce the amount of criminal activity associated with the drug. Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray estimates that eliminating arrests, prosecutions, and imprisonment for nonviolent offenders due to legalization could save the state $1 billion a year.
The bill was delayed until January 2010, when the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 4 to 3 vote—this marked the first time in United States history that a bill legalizing marijuana passed a legislative committee. However, the bill was unable to move forward to the Health Committee, where it was required to be heard before reaching the Assembly floor, before the January 15 deadline for proposed 2009 legislation. Ammiano plans to re-introduce the bill later this month or wait to see how a ballot measure for legalization fares in November 2010.
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There are three separate initiatives that are currently in circulation to qualify for the November 2010 elections.
- Cannabis in the United States
- Decriminalization of non-medical cannabis in the United States
- Drug policy of California
- Legal history of cannabis in the United States
- Places that have decriminalized non-medical cannabis in the United States
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