Many in Sacramento’s cannabis community oppose Proposition 19
This November, Proposition 19 will give voters the chance to make California the nation’s first state to decriminalize recreational marijuana for adults. But while legalization is long-sought-after goal for Sacramento’s cannabis stakeholders, many are conflicted by—and even against—the ballot measure.
“You would think out of all people that we would be very supportive of it,” says Lanette Davies, director of local medical-cannabis advocacy group the Center for Patients’ Rights. “[But] I strongly do not support it.” And she says she’s spending “thousands” of dollars to defeat the measure.
Davies, who also co-owns local Canna Care dispensary with her husband, Brian, spent the past few weeks distributing anti-Prop. 19 brochures at the California State Fair. She says her motivation defies good economic sense. “We could literally overnight increase our business fivefold [if Prop. 19 passes],” Davies admits. “But it is not in the best interests of the patients.”
If approved, Prop. 19—also called the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010—would legalize the possession and personal consumption of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for any person over age 21. It also would allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of cannabis for personal use.
Additionally, the measure grants local governments, such as the city of Sacramento, two choices: to either tax and control recreational marijuana sales and cultivation, or to ban such practices altogether.
Critics argue that Prop. 19 would be a step backward for patients’ safe access to cannabis, especially in Placer or El Dorado counties, which already prohibit dispensaries in spite of 1996’s Proposition 215. The measure also enacts harsher penalties for adults that offer cannabis to minors—in some cases imprisonment up to seven years—and would increase penalties for marijuana users under 21 years old.
Davies’ Canna Care is the first local dispensary to aggressively dispute Prop. 19. But others share similar concerns.
MediCann, a medical-marijuana evaluation clinic with branches in Elk Grove, North Highlands and East Sacramento, also has come out against Prop. 19. The Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, a coalition of 15 Sacramento-area dispensaries, has taken a “neutral” stance, arguing that the law won’t impact medicinal cannabis. Americans for Safe Access has taken a “non-stance” on the measure, too, for similar reasons. And longstanding Sacramento cannabis activist Ryan Landers says he has yet to settle on yes or no.
Caleb Counts, who co-owns Fruitridge Health and Wellness Collective and is one of three founding members of the Sacramento Alliance, says that he personally is “focused on medical” but also “isn’t sure” how he’ll vote come November 2.
“There’s just a lot of uncertainty out there,” he says. “But pass or fail, a lot of change is going to continue to come to the industry.”
Prop. 19’s roots are in Oakland, where Richard Lee, who founded Oaksterdam University, and medical-cannabis provider S.K. Seymour LLC have given nearly $1.4 million to back the measure. Three pro-19 committees have registered with the secretary of state, and their coffers far outweigh those of the three no-on-19 efforts.
But what the anti-19 groups lack in funding, they make up with endorsement muscle. Both gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown have came out against Prop. 19, as have Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer. Locally, Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully opposes Prop. 19, as does Assemblyman Roger Niello.
Veteran Democratic Party consultant Roger Salazar heads the “Public Safety First—No on 19” campaign. “Even if you’re for legalization,” he said, “this isn’t the right way to do it,” calling Prop. 19 a “poorly written” measure that places an “unreasonable” amount of liability on local governments.
Opponents say municipalities are ill-prepared to regulate intracounty transport of large quantities of cannabis or to ensure that cultivators and retailers pay taxes—issues further complicated by neighboring governments that will outlaw marijuana entirely. Salazar argues that this local approach will set off “randomness and uncertainty,” because substances such as alcohol and tobacco are regulated “top down” by state-level agencies.
“It’s not even done this way in Amsterdam,” he says of Prop. 19.
But the yes-on-19 camp is trying to take the argument to a higher level. “If you don’t support legalization, then what you support is incarceration, and that becomes problematic,” argues Max Del Real, local medical-cannabis lobbyist and adviser to the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign. He acknowledges that Prop. 19 is “complex,” but that it also comes down to one simple question:
“Do I support taxing and regulating California’s No. 1 cash crop? End of statement. End of the gray area. It’s a yes-or-no vote.”
But Canna Care’s Davies says the measure makes too many concessions to law enforcement and ultimately will criminalize patients and minors. There’s a bill at the Capitol, Mark Leno’s Senate Bill 1449, which might amend misdemeanor possession to an infraction. But there’s still the possibility of harsher penalties, Davies reminds, and this has her wary.
In Sacramento, the medical-cannabiscommunity also is hesitant. Will Prop. 19 decrease patients’ safe access? Will it lead to unprecedented law-enforcement crackdowns due to increased use and abuse? Or will taxes on medical cannabis destroy the nonprofit business model in favor of for-profit, recreational-cannabis retail?
“I think the taxes will end up applying to medical [marijuana],” says Nathan Sands, communications director for the local Compassionate Coalition, which supports Prop. 19. New cannabis taxes would be unprecedented; some estimate an ounce of cannabis might be levied upward of 60 percent. But Sands says the doubts don’t outweigh the potential.
“The legal part of it might be negative for patients in some ways,” Sands explains, “but the overall tone of what it will accomplish, I think, is more important. And if it is defeated, it will be billed as a defeat for patients as well.”
Ryan Landers, a Sacramento activist since the Prop. 215 days, says the California cannabis industry could “win an election on a group effort that was better written” and that Prop. 19 “opens the door to huge abuse.”
“This is not legalization by any means,” he argues—though he remains undecided on the measure. “I’d rather have it written right and wait than to do it wrong first.”
Counts, who opened Fruitridge Wellness Collective in February 2009 and now serves nearly 5,000 patients, says that regardless of the outcome, it will be a long road.
“We’re 14 years into Prop. 215, and they still haven’t figured out medical [cannabis],” he reminds.