This 2016 election is the most pivotal election in marijuana reform history. A record ten states will be voting on reform measures. Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Montana[i] will be voting for medical marijuana measures. Most significantly, California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine will be voting for adult marijuana legalization.
Well, except for that die-hard group of marijuana activists who will be voting along with the cops, rehabs, drug testers, prison guards, and other opponents of legalization to defeat these measures. I call them Stoners Against Legalization.
This is the fifth election cycle where this phenomenon has reared its ugly head. It’s a combination of a few factors.
One is “I Gots Mine!” – the people and industries in states with medical marijuana fearing the loss of their market share. Medical marijuana – especially in California – creates the perfect equilibrium for growers and sellers where marijuana is prohibited enough to remain expensive but legal enough to avoid prison.
Another is “It’s a Trap!” – the paranoid who believe that legalization is actually a way to manufacture more marijuana arrests. Somehow, when everyone is legal to carry an ounce and grow a few plants, cops will bust more people for over an ounce and too many plants. Or for driving stoned. Or for public toking. Often, they will point to existing crimes that are duplicated in the legalization measure as if they are new additions to the law.
For the purists, the point is “It’s not True Legalization™!” – this is the idea that we should reject some measure of marijuana liberty because there will still exist some criminal laws on marijuana. For some, legalization only really happens when it’s as legal as alcohol – no purchase limits, for instance. For the truly pure, legalization doesn’t happen until we “Treat It Like Tomatoes!” – people I like to call TILTers.
Then for some, the problem is “What About the Patients?!” – the somewhat legitimate fear that wholesale changes in the way we handle marijuana are going to upset the ability for patients to acquire marijuana in the amount and frequency they need.
California – The Birthplace of Stoners Against Legalization
Nowhere are Stoners Against Legalization more vocal than in California. It gave birth to the movement in 2010, culminating in a “No on Prop 19” demonstration in front of Oaksterdam on Election Day. Their primary concern was that Prop 19 was a scheme cooked up by Richard Lee to enrich his Oakland marijuana empire, a monopoly grab that would hike the price of pot and leave others out in the cold. They also complained that the personal grow limits of a 5′ x 5′ garden were a trap, because nobody could grow in that small a canopy, so cops would be continually busting people for overgrowing.
Never mind that Richard Lee, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic, had come up from the grassroots and helped supply medical marijuana to thousands of patients. Never mind that his Oaksterdam University contributed a wealth of knowledge that helped foster the top growers in the nation. Never mind that Lee bet almost his entire fortune by putting $1.5 million into the campaign. Nope, to Stoners Against Legalization, Richard Lee was an enemy as reviled as any narcotics cop.
The “No on Prop 19” people told us it wasn’t “True Legalization™”. They told us “It’s a Trap” designed to help cops arrest tokers. The truth was they had a case of “I Gots Mine!”, evidenced by the drubbing Prop 19 took in the Emerald Triangle, the commercial marijuana growing counties in California.
The Stoners Against Legalization told us that a far better chance at legalization would come around in 2012. Now it’s 2016 and the far better chance at legalization has finally arrived, only four years late. But the Stoners Against Legalization are out again, with virtually the same dire predictions as 2010.
Grabbing some ink these days is Stoner Against Legalization Steve Kubby. He insists that Prop 64 “does not legalize marijuana”, despite it clearly legalizing the possession of an ounce, the home production of six plants, the possession of the harvest, the sharing of marijuana with other adults, the purchase of marijuana from stores, and potentially, the use of marijuana at private clubs.
Kubby complains that Prop 64 creates tougher punishments for people who possess more than an ounce. That’s just not true, as the current punishment for possession of over an ounce is a misdemeanor with 6 months, which becomes a felony with 16 months to 3 years if you have intent to deliver. Under Prop 64, the possession penalty is the same and the intent deliver penalty drops from a felony to a misdemeanor.
In fact, every penalty for marijuana violations under Prop 64 is equal to or less than the current punishment except one: smoking pot where tobacco smoking is banned (no smoking zones) rises from a $100 to a $250 fine.
Taxing Patients Sucks… But Cheaper Medicine Makes Up For It
There is one issue I have a problem with in Prop 64 and that’s the addition of a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana, as well as a $9.25 per ounce harvest tax, that must be paid by recreational and medical consumers alike. Adding 15 percent plus $9.25 to a $300 ounce adds about $55 to the cost of that ounce for a patient.
However, that is not a deal-breaker for me, because the resulting economy of scale and competition that will evolve in the cultivation space will drop the price so low that even with the additional taxation, marijuana will be far cheaper in just a couple of years than it is today.
Among Washington State’s Stoners Against Legalization in 2012, one of the dire predictions was that marijuana was going to end up costing $600 an ounce. And, for a brief time, those kind of prices were realized, as too few retailers and too little supply culminated in $30 grams.
But now as the supply side has worked itself out, we’re finding the average retail price for a gram of marijuana is below $10, and that’s with the state’s highest-in-the-nation 37 percent excise tax and state and local sales taxes ranging from 6-to-9 percent. If you’re buying at the ounce level, you can find deals for less than $50.
As this recreational market expands in California, it has to compete with the rest of the West Coast market that has a four- and two-year head start (Washington and Oregon, respectively). If grow regs and taxes become too onerous in the Emerald Triangle, those growers will move to Southern Oregon. If prices get too high in Portland, consumers cross the river into Vancouver, Washington. If recreational pot is too much of a hassle and expense, Californians will just keep renewing their medical recommendations.
I think the price of marijuana in California could drop to as low as $150 an ounce after the passage of Prop 64 and the time it takes to get commercial operations running. Then when California in 2020 opens up the mega-grow licenses, the prices will drop even further. Even if the ounce price, with tax, only drops to $250, it’s still cheaper than the current menu at Oakland’s Harborside Health Center.
Check back tomorrow for Part II – The Washington Debacle and on Sunday for Part III – The Southwest & Northeast.
[i] Montana is voting to restore its medical marijuana system to its status before 2011 legislative restrictions were enacted limiting caregivers to just three patients and mandating audits of doctors who recommend for more than 25 patients.