Jonathan Collier: No on 64 from a cannabis advocate’s perspective

October 12, 2016 – As Chair of the Nevada County Chapter of the California Growers Association, I must be very clear that as an organization we stand neutral with strong concerns in regard to the Adult Use Marijuana Act (AUMA). However it’s these concerns that make me personally opposed to Proposition 64.

On the surface it seems I should support Prop 64. However, like many political issues, it’s more complex than it appears. Once the first layer is peeled away, it’s the next level of arguments that make me firmly oppose AUMA. The question of who will control the industry, and how will it look in the future?

Current state regulations provide a level playing field that encourages small, heritage farmers, and middle-class entrepreneurs to enter the market with relative ease. It also creates restrictions on size, vertical integration and ownership that deter big business from dominating the industry. AUMA eliminates these restrictions and provides big money all the tools they need to corporatize and consolidate the industry.

Why does this matter?

In my opinion, our county as well as the state will be better served by regulations that support thousands of small, independent businesses providing well paying local jobs and a fat middle class, rather than paving the way for big business and the elite to conglomerate the industry. The tendency is for corporations to pay their executive team lavishly, while paying those down the rung as little as possible. There would be very little reason to expect differently in this situation.

Currently there is the opportunity for this to be the first major industry characterized by diverse ownership. Women and minorities have historically played a powerful role in the industry and they have the potential to thrive as successful, legitimate business owners. If AUMA passes we will see ownership pass to the corporate elite.

From an environmental perspective, current regulations support the practices of the heritage cannabis farmer, encouraging a back to the earth, small family farm, organic standard. That is not to say that large warehouse grows and other practices aren’t allowed or won’t happen, but that they are disincentivized through costs of operations and market appeal. Also, the current size limitations prevent hundreds of acres of row crops that require extensive pesticide use, heavy watering and a degradation of product quality, this will change if AUMA passes.

There is also the concern that recreational use will overtake the medical aspect of the industry. In the state of Washington they eliminated medical cannabis entirely. Although, unlikely to happen in California, medical may fall to the wayside and all the promising research into cannabis related therapies may take a back seat to profit.

The last argument revolves around 60+ pages of legislation. Propositions are typically several pages long with general language that provide a mandate and guidance as to how it should look. The problem is that a voter approved proposition can only be changed by another popular election or by a supermajority of the legislation,if they are mandated by the election they are virtually impossible to change. With 60+ pages of language we have to hope that this proposition is bullet proof, that it will withstand the rapidly shifting landscape of the industry and of the times.

On the positive side, Proposition 64 gives the ability for people to have easy and safe access to cannabis. Although very important, I feel this could happen just as easily and quickly through a legislative path.Whether AUMA passes or not we are likely to see adult recreational use legalized in 2020.

Perhaps the strongest argument for AUMA is the reduction of criminal penalties and the allowance of prior offenders to petition for reduced charges. The War on Drugs has failed at a high cost to families and society, and this makes for a compelling argument. However, arrest rates and charges have already dropped dramatically across the state, and many of these people will still be targeted if they are not allowed to enter into the legitimate marketplace.

As much as I support adult use and the full end of prohibition, if we are to move forward we need to make sure that we do so in a way that will provide lasting benefit to California. From an economic, social equality and ecological standpoint I believe that AUMA fails to do this. I will be voting no on Proposition 64.

Jonathan Collier

Chair of the Nevada County Chapter, California Growers Association