In an effort to lure voters, Prop. 64 proponents are currently spreading deceptive and misleading information about a false prison crisis that supposedly only AUMA can save us from. But this is another deception: California has no prison crisis with regard to cannabis offenders – we typically don't imprison cannabis offenders at all – and the Golden State is already independently freeing nonviolent drug offenders thanks to Prop. 47, a measure passed in 2014 that reduced personal possession of almost all drugs from felonies to misdemeanors. Furthermore, Prop. 47 is helping hundreds of thousands more offenders than Prop. 64 even pretends to.

While it is tempting to draw the conclusion that legalizing cannabis under Prop. 64 will lead to decreased arrests, this is not necessarily true in the unique case of California. As it is today, Californians already can possess the one ounce that Prop. 64 would legalize without getting arrested, without going to jail, without getting a criminal record and without being excluded from federal student aid and other government programs. And in 2011, possession up to one ounce was downgraded further still, from a misdemeanor to a mere infraction, sharing the same status as a parking ticket, punishable by at most a $100 fine.

In reality, “[h]ardly anyone is locked up in California prisons or county jails on any type of marijuana sentence – whether for stashing bushels or large-scale trafficking,” reports George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. “In prisons, only about three-tenths of 1 percent of the total inmate population is incarcerated for a marijuana offense. Of total California felony arrests last year, according to the state attorney general, just 3 percent were on any marijuana charge. And for misdemeanor arrests, it was less than 1 percent,” he adds. Yet “no matter how rooted in falsehood... ending the 'failed drug war,' focusing on the 'real criminals' and 'unclogging the courts' is one of [Prop. 64 proponents'] favorite arguments.”

In fact, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) used this deceptive argument in a recent article making deliberately fallacious claims that Prop. 64 would prevent thousands of marijuana arrests. Even the article's title is misleading:It’s Not Legal Yet: Nearly 500,000 Californians Arrested for Marijuana – in Last Decade” [emphasis added]. But let's be honest: In the realm of drug policy, a lot has changed in California in the last decade. If you're one who just scans headlines without digging deeper, you might be shocked to see that figure. The DPA is apparently banking on it, because a casual read of the article shows the actual arrest rates for cannabis in California are not so scary at all.

Consider these statistics. A decade ago, in 2005, there were 35,011 adult misdemeanor cannabis arrests. But after California downgraded possession of one ounce from a misdemeanor to an infraction in 2011, misdemeanor cannabis arrests tumbled a whopping 93 percent, down to a comparatively negligible 2,243 in 2014. What's more, felony cannabis arrests dropped a dramatic 33.3 percent last year, which NORML says is attributed to the 2014 passage of Prop. 47, the most progressive piece of drug policy in the nation.

So while Jolene Forman of the DPA attempts to discredit the notion that “marijuana is essentially legal in California” by claiming that “thousands continue to be arrested annually for marijuana activities,” a) the numbers speak for themselves, and b) what she neglects to mention is that none of these arrests are for offenses that Prop. 64 would legalize.

Contrary to what one might expect from something calling itself a “legalization” initiative, Prop. 64 keeps nearly all cannabis laws on the books. Most of the offenses that people could get arrested for – such as selling small amounts, large-scale trafficking, growing more than six plants and possessing more than one ounce – will remain arrestable, criminal misdemeanors and/or felonies if Prop. 64 passes, punishable by up to 6 months in jail or up to four years in state prison.

But while California is making significant gains reducing cannabis arrests, Prop. 64 ironically calls for jail time for a host of harmless offenses – including possessing more than an ounce of cannabis. If you get pulled over with an ounce for yourself and a gram or two for a friend, you will face a draconian 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine under Prop. 64:

Sec. 11357 (2)
Persons 18 years of age or over who possess more than 28.5 grams of marijuana, or more than four grams of concentrated cannabis, or both, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than 6 months or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

Over an ounce is a criminal penalty: Is that legalization?” 
-- San Francisco Attorney Matt Kumin

Under Prop. 64, even sharing any amount of cannabis would be a crime punishable by jail for teens and young adults aged 18-20 – even though it is not an arrestable offense today. Young people in this age group – which includes most college students – will face up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine for engaging in one of the most common and harmless pastimes California indulges in: simply sharing a joint together. Adults 21 and over who pass a joint to another college-age adult under 21 face the same steep penalty. In both cases, if they have certain prior convictions, under Prop. 64 they could be sentenced to prison time – as in, actual state prison; not the county jail – for two, three or four years – merely for sharing cannabis in any amount:

Sec. 11360
(a) Except as otherwise provided by this section or as authorized by law, every person who transports, imports into this state, sells, furnishes, administers, or gives away, or offers to transport, import into this state, sell, furnish, administer, or give away, or attempts to import into this state or transport any marijuana shall be punished as follows:

(2) Persons 18 years of age or over shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail for a period of not more than 6 months or by a fine of not more than five hundred dollars ($500), or by both such fine and imprisonment. A person 18 years of age or over may be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 of the Penal Code for a period two, three, or four years if:
(A) the person has one or more prior convictions for (certain) offense(s).

This punishment is in harsh contrast to the penalty that exists now. Currently, sharing any amount of cannabis under an ounce with other adults under 21 is a mere infraction in California, punishable by a $100 fine. 
Even parents who want to celebrate “legalization” by sharing a joint with their adult children who are under 21 would become criminals under Prop. 64, and would face 6 months in jail and/or a $500 fine (Sec.11360.2). And nothing in the initiative would protect parents from Child Protective Services if they choose to exercise their right to recreationally possess, cultivate or consume.

From this it is clear that Prop. 64 was written not to decriminalize cannabis, but to legalize a recreational commercial cannabis industry, not unlike Washington's much-derided initiative.

This is not the legalization I spent 30 years fighting for. This is commoditization.”
Vivian McPeak, Executive Director of Seattle Hempfest

Prop. 47, California's newest piece of sweeping drug policy reform, has already made Prop. 64 obsolete.

Furthermore, thanks to the Prop. 47, which passed quietly in 2014, simple possession of almost all drugs have been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors, and as a result, California is already single-handedly and independently drastically reducing drug arrests and the prison population across the state – no convoluted recreational initiative necessary.

Over 1 million nonviolent offenders, most of whom were arrested on drug charges, will be impacted by Prop. 47, as they now face markedly reduced penalties – such as fines and probation instead of jail time. Hundreds of thousands of nonviolent ex-felons have already applied to get their records expunged.

In Los Angeles, home to the nation's largest jail system, drug arrests fell one-third in just the first year of its passage. Nearly 10,000 inmates will be eligible for resentencing, and “more than 4,300 state prisoners have already been resentenced and then released.” And here it bears repeating that felony cannabis arrests dropped a full one-third last year, which NORML says is credited to Prop. 47.

In addition to the overwhelmingly positive effects Prop. 47 is having on nonviolent drug offenders, the new law is also saving California hundreds of millions of dollars. Gov. Jerry Brown was able to reduce his proposed annual budget by $73 million – more than either Washington or Colorado made last year in recreational pot taxes – and cut the use of private prison beds in half” because of Prop. 47. And a report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that California would additionally save $100 million - $200 million beginning this year because this state is now home to the most progressive drug policy reform in the land.

To put that in perspective, Washington State spent around $200 million enforcing pot laws for a full decade, from 2000-2010. Even without Prop. 64, California will save that much this year alone. So, California is already making historic, herculean strides in the arena of drug reform with policy that is much broader and far-reaching than anything Prop. 64 even purports to be, and without the initiative's hazardous side effects.  

Prop. 64's entire campaign is built upon deception. Don't be fooled when Prop. 64 proponents claim California needs some unwieldy, 62-page initiative to keep our citizens out of jail. This is California, not Kentucky; we already don't arrest people for carrying an ounce. 

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