How Would California’s Prop 64 Change Drug Law Enforcement?

How Would California’s Prop 64 Change Drug Law Enforcement?

Since the Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215) passed in 1996, California has had some of the most lenient marijuana laws in the United States.  Under California Health and Safety Code section 11357, possession for personal use (or “simple possession”) of not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is a non-criminal infraction punishable by a $100 fine and no jail time.  Simple possession of more than 28.5 grams, however, is punishable by a maximum of 6 months of jail time and/or a $500 fine.  The Compassionate Use Act made medical marijuana legal in California as a matter of state law, allowing Californians to use medical marijuana if it was recommended by a doctor for conditions ranging from cancer to migraines.

While California may have lenient marijuana use laws, it still punishes possession or distribution of significant amounts.  Between 2006 and 2015, “there were nearly half a million marijuana arrests in California.  During this period, there were on average 14,000 marijuana felony arrests in the state each year.”  Despite the decriminalization of marijuana possession, youths and minorities continue to be arrested for simple possession at a disproportionate rate.

In November of this year, Californians will be afforded the opportunity to vote on Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.  If it passes, Prop 64 will allow Californians over 21 to possess, transport, and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes.  Prop 64 will also “impose an excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15 percent of sales’ price and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.”

Californians had an opportunity to pass a similar Prop in 2010, but it failed by a vote of 53.5 to 46.5.  In the last 6 years, however, states such as Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized recreational marijuana.  Polls indicate that Californians feelings about marijuana have shifted since 2010.  In a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey, for example, 58% of the 1,879 respondents stated that they supported Prop 64.  This favorable view “extends across most lines of age, race, income, and gender, according to the survey.

This upswing in favor of Prop 64 may be about anticipated revenue: Prop 64 could raise more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue and could reduce law enforcement costs by $100 million.  Californians may also be observing the impact of legalization elsewhere:  states which have already legalized marijuana have reported minimal negative consequences to legalization for recreational use.

Unless or until Prop 64 passes, however, Californians can still be arrested under the current simple possession laws.  Prop 64 could have a substantial impact on the lives of clients whose future is threatened because of minor marijuana arrests.  However, even if it passes, federal law enforcement authorities maintain that marijuana is illegal under federal law — and the conflict between state and federal law will make marijuana use an ongoing risk.

 

Natalie Bermudez

Natalie Bermudez

Natalie Bermudez is an associate with Brown White & Osborn LLP. She specializes in civil litigation in federal and state court.
Natalie Bermudez