Beyond Propaganda: What Would Legalizing Marijuana Look Like in California?

legal california marijuana
Fear of the unknown and fear of change are often barriers to policy change, even when science diffuses many of the concerns. Not knowing what a change in policy “looks” like can spawn assumptions influenced by propaganda and rhetoric rather than evidence. However, once the change happens and the public sees the reality, fears are often transformed into questions and a desire for information.

This has certainly been the case with marijuana policy in the U.S. Although California approved marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, it was not until Colorado and Washington legalized the use of marijuana for adults 21 and older and began to develop a system of regulation from cultivation to sales, that the public actually got to answer the question, “what does marijuana legalization look like?”

Most people are aware of the government’s reefer madness campaign waged in the 1930’s, and even though there is no longer the commonly held belief that marijuana causes people to fly into a murderous rage, there was still the unknown of a legally regulated marijuana landscape. Building up to the election in 2012, opponents of legalization warned the public of dire consequences, including rampant teen use, crime and auto accidents. We were warned of huge marijuana corporate conglomerates who would steam roll any attempt to regulate advertising and product availability. While these warnings did not dissuade voters from approving legalization in Colorado and Washington, they are reflective of the kind of claims that can be made in the absence of actual evidence.

After legalization passed inColorado and Washington, the public was able to experience marijuana legalization first hand. Claims and warnings have been replaced with data and reports. But, even more importantly, the unknown was replaced with something real, and whether a person supports legalization or not, it is to everyone’s benefit to deal in realities and not predictions and assumptions. Once the landscape became real, the public’s interest shifted from “if”, to “how”. The Drug Policy Alliance believes that this is the time for education and discussion about how to build a marijuana regulatory system that meets the needs of all Californians, especially the most vulnerable. Now that the public sees what actual legalization looks like, they are more ready than ever to engage in conversations about policy making that come from a review of the evidence, not a reaction to a scare tactic.

To this end, the Drug Policy Alliance is pleased to announce that there are three symposium on marijuana related policy topics available for download for free here. The first symposia, held in Los Angeles, addressed issues related to marijuana use and public health. Speakers included Alison Holcomb from the ACLU, Tista Ghosh from the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, and Representative Jonathan Singer from Colorado. The goal of this symposia was to address concerns related to how marijuana legalization might impact road safety, teen drug use and criminal activity.

The second symposia, held in Oakland, addressed the social and racial justice issues related to legalization, including the modification of criminal penalties for marijuana, and the impact that prohibition has had and legalization might have on those most targeted by the war on drugs, communities of color. Speakers included Alice Huffman from the CA NAACP, Robert Rooks from Californians for Safety and Justice, and Deborah Small from Break the Chains.

The final symposia, held in Eureka, focused on the impact that marijuana prohibition has had on the environment, and the ways in which this damage can be addressed via the regulation of marijuana cultivation. Speakers at this symposia included Assemblymember Jim Wood, County Supervisor Mark Lovelace, and John Corbett, Regional Chairman, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board.

amanda reimanWith marijuana policies shifting from prohibition to regulation, it is vital to address and discuss issues related to public health and safety as well as environmental preservation and repairing the damage done to so many communities by the war on drugs. Through these conservations we can develop and promote policies that work for all Californians.

Amanda Reiman
Drug Policy Alliance

About Amanda Reiman

Amanda Reiman is the California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. Based in San Francisco, Reiman leads DPA’s marijuana reform work in California. A ten-year resident of Oakland, Reiman joined the Drug Policy Alliance in 2012 after working with the medical marijuana dispensary, Berkeley Patients Group, as director of research and patient services. More here.