On a High Horse
Prop. 19’s critics include medical pot backers who say the law is flawed.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Prohibition: That’s what proponents of legalized marijuana call the laws against it, harkening back to the days of Al Capone, when organized crime controlled the moonshine market.
But even among pro-pot folks, there’s no unanimity about Proposition 19, the November ballot measure that would legalize cannabis for adult recreational use and allow the government to tax it.
Medical marijuana pioneers – who have in the past argued with a single voice for safe access for patients – are split, with the state’s biggest players backing Prop. 19, while some smaller dispensary operators oppose the measure or remain neutral.
“We are for the repeal of prohibition,” says Marc Whitehill of the Boulder Creek Collective, a Santa Cruz County medical marijuana co-op.
But Whitehill is voting no on Prop 19. He worries industry giants will edge out today’s small growers who produce marijuana for dispensaries, the people he says are struggling to pay for their kids’ braces or fix the family car. Whitehill argues that because the law doesn’t explicitly protect small growers, the bigger players will use their clout to lobby for exorbitant fees, making it impossible for mom-and-pops to remain in business.
“We would like to see a better law,” he says. “We want to know where the product is going to come from, and what the fee schedules are. We find it very suspicious that a bill that would legalize a multi-billion-dollar industry doesn’t address any of that directly.”
In Monterey County, where medical marijuana has yet to gain a foothold, Brenda Carr of My Caregiver, a Monterey co-op ordered to temporarily shut down pending city regulation, worries that legalizing cannabis for recreational use will allow already-queasy public officials to lump those who want to get high with patients who need pot to relieve chronic pain and other symptoms, and ban all of it from their cities.
Carr, who says she speaks for herself and not the co-op, is neutral on Prop. 19. But Yes on 19 spokesman Tom Angell contends the little guys have nothing to worry about.
“I really can’t wrap my head around it,” he says of the pro-weed opposition. “If anything, it will allow them to expand their base of people they’re servicing. It will create greater tax revenue by bringing more of the marijuana trade above ground. I really don’t see any large multi-nationals getting involved until federal policy begins to change, so people working in California will have a leg up over everyone else.”
He points to Prop. 19 support from operators of some of the biggest and most successful medical pot operations in the state: Oakland’s Harborside and the Farmacy in Southern California. Richard Lee, founder of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, put Prop. 19 on the ballot and in the spotlight, in part with industry profits.
But divisions among pro-weed forces are so strong that a Halloween coalition has emerged against Prop. 19, putting strong law-and-order types like the California Association of Highway Patrolmen in bed with the California Cannabis Coalition, a dispensary trade group.
After initial surveys showing Prop. 19 enjoying wide support, the latest L.A. Times and Public Policy Institute of California polls predict defeat for the measure on Election Day.