Prop 64 – the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative – Goes with Good, Clean and Fair

By October 30, 2016Blog
Prop 64 and Slow Food values

For years, whenever I heard anyone mention the number 64 I thought of the Beatles’ song, “When I’m Sixty-Four,” which has the refrain, “will you still need me, will you still feed me when I’m sixty-four?” These days when I hear that same number, I think about Prop 64.

Prop 64 — the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative — is on the ballot in California Election Day, November 8. It’s also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA.)

The opinions in this blog post are those of the author and not necessarily – but neither necessarily not – those of Slow Food Russian River.

Prop 64 and Slow Food ideas

As a member of Slow Food, I connect Prop 64 to the organization’s goals of good, clean and fair food for all. Technically speaking, marijuana isn’t a food. One couldn’t live on marijuana alone, though 1960s hippies used to say that “dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope.”

All kidding aside, human beings, from Asia to Europe, have cooked with and eaten foods made with marijuana for thousands of years, as historical research has shown. Back in the day, hippies consumed plenty of pot brownies. These days, marijuana dispensaries offer a wide variety of “edibles,” including candy and ice cream made with dope, grass, weed, or pot – whatever you want to call it. And lots of cooks sprinkle marijuana into salads and sauces.

A stimulant to appetite, marijuana has been for decades and still is recommended by doctors for patients with some cancers, AIDS/HIV and “Wasting Syndrome.”

No, marijuana isn’t a food, but it has been proven to stimulate the human appetite for food. It can and often does awaken the senses and enhances the flavors of foods.

Like wine, cider, and beer — which were also once prohibited in the U.S. — marijuana is a substance we ingest for its pleasurable and convivial effects. As the founder of Slow Food, Carlo Petrini, has explained in his books and talks, Slow Food is about the pleasures of food, not the speed with which it is consumed.

Jorge Cervantes’s The Cannabis Encyclopedia, a 596-page tome, has a section on cooking with marijuana that provides easy-to-follow instructions, with photos, for making cannabis butter. Mariann Garner-Wizard’s Hempseed Food, while only 73-pages, offers recipes for cooking with the seeds of the hemp plant, which is in the same family as the marijuana plant, though it has far less THC, which is the psychoactive chemical that gets users “high” and makes them feel “stoned.”

It is probably useful to say that it is illegal in the United States to grow, cook with, consume, and possess marijuana. But what about my neighbor or my cousin, you might say, who is growing marijuana as though marijuana is the same as tomatoes or lettuce. Well, that neighbor or cousin is breaking the law.

What Prop 64 will do

That brings us back to the topic of Prop 64, which would legalize the adult use of marijuana and help bring marijuana growers and users out of the shadows, and into the open. Prop 64 would move us closer to the goal of ending the prohibition of marijuana that has existed since 1937 and that has unfairly targeted minorities, especially African Americans and Latinos.

There has been nothing fair, good or clean about the marijuana prohibition. Indeed, federal, state and local laws have sent tens of millions of Americans into jails and prisons for merely possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Prop 64 is still controversial

Like almost all propositions dealing with marijuana, Prop 64 is controversial. The Press Democrat has come out against it. The San Francisco Chronicle is for it.

Prop 64 has the support of a wide-variety of organizations including the California Medical Association, the California Democratic Party, California NAACP, the ACLU of California, the California Cannabis Industry Association, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy and NORML, the granddaddy of organizations supporting legalization. Law enforcement is against it, though not all police officers.

No one seems to feel indifferently about Prop 64. I’m certainly not indifferent.  

Twenty years ago, in 1996, I voted for Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act that made medical marijuana legal in California. Now, in 2016 I’m voting for Prop 64, because I have grown up with marijuana, and also because I have cultivated it and consumed it, often at the dinner table with pastas, soups, salads and desserts. Sometimes food goes better with cannabis.

I believe that at this juncture in history it makes more sense to vote yes than to vote no, though some marijuana activists have come out against 64. Indeed, it’s far from perfect, though it helps farmers and consumers, like me and like tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of Californians who now cultivate it and consume it. Cultivation of six plants for personal use would be allowed under the new law.

In fact, Prop 64 allows adults age 21+ to possess, transport, purchase, consume and share up to one ounce of marijuana and eight grams of marijuana concentrates. Under 64, one won’t need a doctor’s recommendation. You can grown your own, or buy it from a dispensary. Prop 64 does not legalize the use of marijuana in public, nor does it legalize driving a vehicle while under the influence of marijuana.

Prop 64 imposes a tax on all marijuana sales. Some of the tax money would go to law enforcement. Cops get a cut. Another portion would go to so-called substance abuse programs. Some people do abuse it. Funds will also go toward cleanup of the environment caused by marijuana growers. A small portion will go into research about the plant and its remarkable properties.

What I also like about 64 is that it reduces the punishment for selling pot from a maximum of four years behind bars to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. It also allows courts to reduce the sentences for those already in jail and serving time for violation of the cannabis laws.

Hurray for that! And hurrah, too, because Proposition 64 establishes packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards for cannabis products. It’s kind of like the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 that helped to clean up the dirty, unhealthy meat industry.

Sonoma County lawyer, Joe Rogoway, who has had a long career defending people arrested for marijuana offenses, says Prop 64 “is not ideal, but it is overall a big improvement on prohibition.” Rogoway adds that for “a long time the lines that have distinguished what’s legal and what’s not legal have been blurry” and that “Prop 64 defines the lines a lot more clearly.”

Indeed, Prop 64 is a step in the right direction, though it will not lead us instantly into the Promised Land. As a culture and a society it has taken a long, long time — about 100-years — to get into the marijuana mess that we’re now in. It will take a long time to get out of the mess.

President Johnson saw the need for Prop 64

Fifty years ago, in 1966, President Johnson gave a speech in which he observed that treating marijuana users as criminals “is neither humane nor effective.” He added, “It has neither curtailed addiction nor prevented crime.” He was right.

Johnson might have given the same speech in 1976, 1986, 1996, 2006 and again today and he would still be right. Treating marijuana users as criminals and as addicts has been ineffective and inhumane for half-a-century. The policy has not prevented crime or stopped addiction or dependency.

President Johnson isn’t one of my heroes. He helped make a big mess in Vietnam. But fifty-years ago, he saw a way out of the marijuana mess. We can begin to extricate ourselves now if we pass Prop 64. Legalizing so-called recreational marijuana has been long overdue.

Please think carefully how you vote on Prop 64

The choices this year are far from perfect. Still, there are some ways of voting that are less imperfect than others. A yes vote on 64, is a vote for humanity, for sanity and for the Beatles, too, who smoked marijuana and were arrested for smoking it, and who helped introduce a generation to pot and the pleasures of getting high.  In the spirit of John, Paul, Ringo and George vote yes for 64. And next time you cook, think about cooking with cannabis. Try it. You might like it.

Jonah Raskin is a member of Slow Food Russian River and the author of Marijuanaland: Dispatches from an American War.

 

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