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California | Drug War | Government & Elections | Health, Housing, and Public Services | Police State and Prisons

Ammiano bill does NOT legalize marijuana
by Tim Castleman
Sunday Mar 8th, 2009 11:30 AM
Comments on California Assembly member Ammiano's marijuana tax bill, AB 390 (as introduced)

The problems begin early, in fact with the title of the bill itself - the term "marijuana" is slang and should not be used in legislation. The proper terminology would incorporate all of the words cannabis, sativa, indica and ruderalis. The definition offered in the bill only includes sativa. Much worse are all the new crimes created and the fact that cannabis actually remains illegal except when obtained through state authorized channels. Deepening the offense, the idea that cannabis should be treated like alcohol and only allowed for age 21 years and up is just flat wrong and certainly unenforceable. Even killer tobacco is available to 18 year olds. Further, alcohol kills thousands in a variety of ways. No such harm has come to millions of regular cannabis consumers, except at the hands of their own government. Cannabis is SAFER than alcohol and it is a slippery slope to allow cannabis to be classified in the same category.
So let's wade into the bill's text to unravel this unholy 59 page proposed new law. Section 1 begins well enough and would be complete with just subsection (a), which states: "To legalize marijuana and its derivatives." Regrettably it is mostly downhill from there. Subsection (b) says that 18,19 and 20 year olds are not adults and makes them into a whole new batch of criminals if they have anything at all to do with cannabis. Hope subsides upon reading subsection (c), which requires federal permission for any of the law to be valid anyway. So much for states rights.

Next, subsection (d) funds drug war propaganda and treatment centers with a "substantial fee" on the "legal sale" of marijuana. To clarify what "legal sale" may mean subsection (e) seeks to "impose a set of regulations and laws concerning marijuana comparable to those imposed on alcohol." This means licenses, background checks and restrictions on a plant that has never killed anyone, unlike alcohol. This apples and oranges comparison perpetuates the lie that cannabis is a "dangerous drug" and puts unreasonable restrictions on private citizens. The people that pay the tax should benefit from it with reduced fees for government services, assistance with research and development, small business loans and services that benefit the cannabis consumers. Pot smokers don't cause alcoholism or drug addiction and should not be forced to pay for the treatment of those who become addicted to the products of drug, alcohol and tobacco corporations.

The magnitude of damage this bill could do only begins to come into focus deep into the language, but a hint is seen in subsection (f) "To impose substantial fines for violations of the noncommercial regulations and laws concerning marijuana, which will be applicable until and after commercial marijuana is available by virtue of future changes in federal law." So there you have it - marijuana is even more illegal than it was, unless obtained from a state licensed retailer, who must get it from a state licensed wholesaler, who must get it from a state licensed producer.

Subsection (g) seems to be pro-reform, but look closely and note there are still "crimes related to marijuana" .... "in this bill."

Exempting industrial hemp and medical marijuana from the tax in subsection (h) seems unfair. This is like saying gala apples are taxed but fuji apples are not. It doesn't make sense. If there is a to be a tax on cannabis, let all who benefit from the plant pay their fair share.

The subsection (i) legislation authorizing state funded lobbyists to Washington DC is a waste of taxpayer resources. We have elected representatives and their staff to do this on our behalf already. States do not need to "encourage the federal government" to do anything other than respect states rights.

Sections 2 and 3 set up the tax and licensing regime that must be complied with to avoid prosecution. First year applicants must pay $5,000 ($2,500 annual renewal) and submit to a background check, however no guidance is offered as to whom the "department" may consider worthy of the license. The state's power increases with "significant fees" and "regulations" to enforce. These regulations, fees and taxes cover "all stages of cultivation, harvesting, drying, processing, packing, and delivery". This seems to be taking things out of order. Before we start taxing pot smokers let's stop prosecuting them and work on making restitution for the harm done by the government's dishonesty and outright hostility to cannabis consumers. It is really insulting to suggest cannabis consumers agree to any kind of taxation until after the government has ceased its declared war on them and made restitution for harm done.

Section 4 falls far short of the reparations needed in order for the government to earn back the peoples trust on this matter. Many have been badly burned by the hostile actions of government agents and agencies. This bit of window dressing to address the stigma created by records of past legal issues is a step in the right direction, albeit a very small one.

Section 5 seems to further extend government control and tax authority to include every possible market segment from bongs to baggies to growing supplies and equipment.

Section 6 modifies Schedule I of the controlled substance list by removing the terms "marijuana" and "Tetrahydrocannabinols", which is replaced by "Synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols not derived from cannabis plants. Synthetic equivalents of the substances contained in the plant, or in the resinous extractives of Cannabis, sp. and/or synthetic substances, derivatives, and their isomers with similar chemical structure and pharmacological activity such as the following: delta 1 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and their optical isomers; delta 6 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and their optical isomers; delta 3,4 cis or trans tetrahydrocannabinol, and its optical isomers. (Since nomenclature of these substances is not internationally standardized, compounds of these structures, regardless of numerical designation of atomic positions covered)." Does this mean Marinol is now Schedule I and exempt from the new tax?

Section 7 establishes the punishments for 18,19 and 20 year olds who use cannabis, especially on school grounds.

Sections 8,9, 10 and 11 repeal three laws that made cannabis illegal. Hooray! These are keepers.

Section 12 further codifies the restrictions on every market possibly related to cannabis. In short, everything is illegal, unless the state grants an applicant permission, based on fees, a background check and proof of financial resources to sufficient satisfy their requirements for security etc.

Section 13 exempts felons and others with previous legal trouble from eligibility for a state license to retail, wholesale or produce marijuana. This would be unfair to those who have been unfairly prosecuted for cannabis in the past and will likely restrict the industry to a select few.

Section 14 clarifies that every asset is subject to forfeiture for violation of any of these laws. This devastating practice is often used in place of legal proceedings to persecute individuals and prevent them from fighting back.

Section 15 authorizes law enforcement officials to destroy any amount of a "suspected controlled substance" over 10 pounds. Later, when it is time to return the victims property, much of it is likely to have been destroyed by hostile government agents.

Section 16 repeals property rights of owners.

Section 17 instructs any peace officer, subsequent to making or attempting to make an arrest, to "notify the Franchise Tax Board of a seizure where there is reasonable cause to believe that the value of the seized property exceeds five thousand dollars ($5,000)." Yep, the government always gets their share, legal or not.

Section 18 modifies the H&S code to remove marijuana and hashish "drug paraphernalia" from consideration as items that create "probable cause" for illegal drug dealing. In other words, having a pipe or bong is no longer evidence that the person was dealing. This seems like a keeper.

Section 19 removes marijuana and hashish from the list of prohibited "drug paraphernalia" and language banning cultivation, possession or sale of marijuana. This is a keeper.

Section 20 removes marijuana from the list of controlled substances that a person can be sued for damages related to abuse. This seems like a keeper.

Section 21 adds an incomplete definition of what "marijuana" is and sets forth conditions under which it is "lawful" and (still) "unlawful" to do anything regarding cannabis. Highlights include 11725 (c) sets a 10-plant limit per person and 11725 (d) authorizes a nursery to cultivate and sell "seedlings" but clones are not mentioned. 11725 (e) forbids the nursery from growing any plants to maturity and may ONLY sell seedlings, no marijuana. 11727 seems to exempt industrial hemp and hemp products.

Section 22 adds "Marijuana Fees" to the Revenue and Taxation Code. It exempts industrial hemp and medicinal marijuana from said fees. It also establishes the initial fee of $50 per ounce, which is subject to review but not to an increase. The money goes into a special account to fund drug war propaganda and treatment centers.

Sections 22, 23 and 24 amend the motor vehicle code to remove some penalties related to marijuana possession. Further study is needed here. It is premature to treat marijuana intoxication or the presence of its active compounds as impairment when driving or operating machinery. (Some evidence suggests the opposite.) It’s bad policy to agree to this knee jerk reaction just for the sake of "baby-steps." Science should guide policy, not unproven presumptions based on drug war propaganda.

In summary, it is good the debate has been energized, and there are a few good things about this bill. Here is my proposed revised bill language:

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

SECTION 1. It is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this, the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, to do all of the following:
(a) To legalize cannabis sativa, indica and ruderalis and its derivatives.
(b) To remove all existing civil and criminal penalties
(c ) To begin reparation and restitution for harms done by prior law

View and track AB 390 here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/caasm/postquery?bill_number=ab_390&sess=CUR