Reverse course

Ngaio Bealum is a Sacramento comedian, activist and marijuana expert. Email him questions at

Now that weed is legal is Colorado, will they let people out of jail?

—X. Khan

Not so much, but a little. Just last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals said people whose cases were under appeal when Amendment 64 took effect in December 2012 are eligible to have their convictions reversed. So, if you got arrested in Colorado for possessing less than an ounce of marijuana sometime in 2012, you could appeal your sentence. Although, if you had less than an ounce, you are probably out of jail by now.

However, we should probably discuss letting people out of jail for nonviolent marijuana offenses. Here’s my question: Why not? Why not let people out of jail? It would save money (Colorado spends about $20,000 per prisoner per year), and it would right a wrong (no one should go to jail for marijuana—ever). This would be a win-win.

In California, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative contains language that would release marijuana users from jail, however, the CCHI is most likely not going to make the ballot.

How about in 2016? I talked to Amanda Reiman, the California policy director at the Drug Policy Alliance (the DPA is gathering steam for a huge legalization campaign in 2016), and she said this: “Possibly. It’s something we’ll have to poll on as we get closer. Another option other than putting it in the initiative is to run a parallel criminal justice bill that does that.” I think she has the right idea. The problem with saying you are going to let people out of jail is that the Law & Order types get all hissified about being “soft on crime,” and it would make a legalization initiative almost too easy to campaign against. But two different bills just might get it done. Plan ahead, you guys: 2016 will be here sooner than you think.

Your answer’s a year old. D’oh! Gov. Jerry Brown signed last year’s version of Mark Leno’s Senate Bill 566, which we understand will go into effect when the attorney general determines that its regulatory structure (premised around counties’ agriculture departments) is consistent with the federal guidelines in the 2013 Cole memo. The regulation’s been slowly working its way through Kamala Harris’ Legal Opinion Unit since October. The federal farm bill helps move it forward, but there are still some issues.

—Sean Donahoe, deputy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association

Oops. You are correct. Brown did indeed sign the Industrial Hemp Bill. Thanks for the update. Let’s hope the A.G.’s office moves quickly to get this program implemented. Like state Sen. Mark Leno said: “It would be insult to injury and a double-whammy of the ridiculous if this non-drug variety of cannabis ran into obstacles. Now that the federal government is setting marijuana free, how could it possibly continue to hold industrial hemp hostage?” My thoughts exactly.