Time to scrap Prop. 215?

Last week’s conviction of Chicoan Bryan Epis in federal court on charges of marijuana cultivation highlights the failure of Proposition 215, the medical-marijuana law. Voters overwhelmingly passed the proposition six years ago, but it has been staunchly resisted by most state law enforcement agencies, and the federal government has made no secret of its contempt for and refusal to recognize the law.

Epis is now facing a 10-year prison sentence because his attorney couldn’t use Prop. 215 as a defense. That is because, in 1997, federal agents arrested Epis on conspiracy charges after Butte County sheriff’s deputies raided his house and found 1,000 plants. Epis said the pot was being grown to supply members of the fledgling Chico Medical Marijuana Co-op.

Before his trial, prosecutors offered Epis a deal whereby he could plead guilty to growing 100 plants and be sentenced to four instead of the mandatory five years in prison. He refused, so the federal government charged him with conspiracy to grow 1,000 plants, which carries the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The federal prosecutor petitioned the judge hearing the case, asking that any evidence of medical marijuana be disallowed. The judge agreed. Epis’ fate was sealed before the trial even began.

In the absurd atmosphere of the federal court in Sacramento, Epis’ attorney, Tony Serra, was barred from arguing the heart of his client’s defense—that the marijuana was grown as medicine under the protection of Prop. 215. A jury that had little choice but to convict found Epis guilty. Before and during the trial, Epis’ supporters were chased down by court officers and admonished by the judge for trying to inform potential jurors of their rights.

Prop. 215 was an idea that was born out of good intentions but one that in the end has failed miserably for many who trusted in its legitimacy. California’s medical-marijuana law was sold to the state’s voters as a compassionate piece of legislation, its promoters arguing that pot use can comfort cancer patients by stimulating appetites otherwise lost to the effects of chemotherapy.

While there are legitimate medical uses of marijuana, there are also lots of people in the state using Prop. 215 as an excuse to smoke pot for recreational purposes, a fact that is not lost on law enforcement officers.

Currently more than half a million people are imprisoned in America because of drug possession, and most of those for pot-related offenses. And there are people in Chico—good, decent people—facing long sentences in federal prisons for growing or even talking about growing pot. It is time to scrap Prop. 215 and petition for a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use.

Our prisons and jails are full in part because a good number of normal, everyday and otherwise law-abiding citizens like to light up a joint after work instead of drinking a beer or a glass of wine.

Let’s just be honest here.