Voters in California are slated to decide in November whether to allow fully legal use of marijuana for recreational purposes. The outcome is probably going to a significant influence on marijuana policy in other states, particularly those surrounding, either way it goes.
One of the arguments people have made against legalization of recreational marijuana is that, for the most part, the drug is already legal here. After all, this was the first state to allow medical marijuana 20 years ago, and patients can ask for – and receive – marijuana for just about any condition. State lawmakers also decriminalized possession of small amounts of the drug five years ago, making possession of anything less than an ounce an infraction similar to getting a parking ticket.
However, a new report released by Drug Policy Alliance (a pro-marijuana advocacy group) revealed that between 2006 and 2015, there have been almost half a million arrests on marijuana charges in California. That’s based on figures from the state Department of Justice. And while misdemeanor arrests did fall substantially after the 2011 decriminalization of the drug, there are still thousands of people being arrested on misdemeanor marijuana charges – and thousands more on felony charges, which hardly dropped at all.
In fact last year alone, there were 9,000 felony arrests in California. Guess which communities burdened the bulk of this ongoing marijuana enforcement? Blacks and Latinos. Even though blacks use and sell marijuana at the same rates as whites, they are four times more likely to be arrested for any marijuana offense and five times more likely to be arrested for a marijuana-related felony.
As for the misdemeanor marijuana arrests in California, most involved infractions like:
- Having possession of marijuana concentrates.
- Giving away marijuana to others.
- Having quantities of cannabis that exceeded one ounce.
When it came to the felonies, most of these involved cultivation, possession or intent to sell the drug outside of the state’s Compassionate Use law framework.
So while many people say legalization in California isn’t necessary, the fact of the matter is, this senseless War on Drugs rages on in our communities. The DPA’s figures don’t indicate what happens to individuals after arrest, but our L.A. marijuana lawyers know that even an arrest on its own can have a serious negative effect on someone’s life. It can range from missing a day of work to the creation of a paper trail that results in a denial of a new job or promotion. Inability to post bail could mean a person ends up spending weeks in jail – which can have devastating financial and family consequences.
The measure on the November ballot would legalize giving away the drug (in small quantities), having concentrates of it in one’s possession and growing up to six plants (at home). Sales would also be legal – and taxed – in a manner that would mirror the Colorado market.
While legalization of marijuana likely would reduce the overall number of people arrested on marijuana charges, it’s not clear whether it would close the racial gap for offenses that would continue to be on the books. In Washington and Colorado, which have both legalized the drug, those disparities continue to persist.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.
More Blog Entries:
Obama Frees Record 214 Federal Drug War Prisoners, More Work Left to Do, Aug. 22, 2016, L.A. Marijuana Arrest Attorney Blog