Bad Medicine: Why marijuana advocates oppose an initiative legalizing pot

Law enforcement and pot smokers don't often see eye-to-eye, but some medical marijuana activists have something in common with the police: They don't like Tax Cannabis 2010, the much-ballyhooed ballot initiative that would make California the first state in the union to legalize — and tax, tax, tax — recreational cannabis use.

Of course, they oppose the November ballot measure for different reasons. Cops predictably don't like it because it deals with "dope," while medical pot advocates complain that its fine print actually creates new criminal penalties for marijuana use.

The stated purpose of the measure's authors was to craft a law that treats marijuana more or less like alcohol while creating an additional $1 billion in tax revenue for cash-strapped California. But while it is legal to drink a beer or a fifth of scotch in front of a minor, Tax Cannabis 2010 would make it a crime to use medical marijuana in front of a minor, or pass the dutchie on the left-hand side to a 20-year-old with AIDS or cancer. These heinous acts — some of them hard-won rights provided by the Compassionate Use Act (1996's Proposition 215) — would carry new penalties of up to a $1,000 fine or six months in county jail, on top of the three-to-seven-year minimum state prison sentences for providing cannabis to a minor currently in California law.

Fred Noland

"It creates more crime — why?" asks Dennis Peron, one of Prop. 215's authors, and an activist who is credited with opening one of the nation's first cannabis clubs in the Castro. "Why would we want to create more marijuana crime and add more police?"

Peron says he's dead-set against Tax Cannabis 2010, and he isn't alone. Dispensary owners like Kevin Reed of San Francisco's Green Cross wonder whether the nearly 700,000 people who signed petitions qualifying the ballot measure knew exactly what they were signing, and questions whether the push to tax and regulate will do more harm than good to the medical cannabis movement.

Jeff Jones, the measure's cosponsor along with Oaksterdam University's Richard Lee, says Peron and Reed are overreacting. Prosecutors rarely, if ever, pursue the tough mandatory minimums provided by law now; why would they do so if the measure passes? The new penalties affect a "minute population in our society," he says, and points out that if the measure passes, law enforcement officers would be forced to shift focus away from pot. "Right now, if someone has a plant in their backyard, they can be a felon," he says. "We're trying to remove that felon status. You cannot tell me that [Tax Cannabis 2010] is worse than [penalties] we have right now."

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