Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jul 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Brooke Edwards Staggs


As she battles symptoms of lupus and depression, Alexandra Rice says 
she depends on easy access to medical marijuana to control widespread 
pain and to improve her mood.

The 21-year-old resident of Grand Terrace, near Riverside, has 
pictures of cannabis flowers on her Twitter profile and friends whose 
live lihoods depend on the pot industry. She's also an unlikely 
opponent of a November ballot initiative that would legalize 
marijuana for all adults in California.

"If it is legalized, more people who don't respect it and just want 
to get high are going to take advantage of that," Rice said. "And 
people who genuinely need it as medicine will be misplaced and thrown 
to the side."

When it comes to permitting recreational cannabis use, reaction from 
the medical mari juana community ranges from enthusiastic advocacy to 
passionate opposition - with many left somewhere in the middle, 
confused and torn.

"I'm completely on the fence about it," said Robert Taft, a longtime 
medical marijuana advocate who owns 420 Central licensed medical 
marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana.

Some medical cannabis users fear the measure, Proposition 64, would 
impose stricter regulations that would affect where they could 
consume marijuana and how much marijuana they could grow.

Those concerns have persisted even as Prop. 64 backers and experts 
argue that the language of the ballot measure doesn't affect the 
rights of medical marijuana patients established when Californians 
passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996.

Indeed, the language of the initiative supports the view that 
properly credentialed medical patients would still be permitted to 
smoke the drug most places tobacco smoking is allowed. And, while 
recreational consumers would be limited to growing six plants at a 
time, medical marijuana patients would continue to be allowed to 
cultivate up to 100 square feet of pot plants.

"It preserves the existing regulatory scheme that we worked for so 
hard for in California," said Don Duncan, California director of 
Americans for Safe Access, an organization that fights for medical 
marijuana rights but stays neutral on recreational cannabis 
legalization. "I don't see any huge landmines for patients."

The initiative's backers argue legalization will actually broaden 
access and rights for the state's estimated 1 million medical marijuana users.

"The sky is not going to fall," said Matt Kumin, a San Francisco 
attorney who's represented medical marijuana clients for two decades. 
"I think this is actually a new day for medical cannabis patients."

Still, anxiety is widespread over how the measure would impact the 
price of medical marijuana and what would become of the state's 
20-year-old market in the shadow of a far larger recreational 
marijuana industry that would be sure to attract a flood of new players.

"There's a lot of concern about that," said Dale Gieringer, 
California director of the legalization advocacy group NORML. "There 
is not a lot of enthusiasm I've seen in the activist community in general."


California's massive medical marijuana economy will change 
dramatically over the next several years, no matter the outcome of 
the November vote on Prop. 64.

State regulators are rolling out a comprehensive new system to 
regulate cannabis growth, manufacturing and sales. Those regulations 
- - the result of legislation approved last year - are expected to rein 
in underground retailers and make cannabis safer while at least 
marginally increasing the price of medical marijuana.

The proposed ballot initiative would largely extend the same 
regulatory framework to recreational marijuana production, testing and sales.

Some predict that post-legalization, many California dispensaries 
would simply have two lines: one for patients and one for 
recreational consumers.

In Colorado, which legalized cannabis in 2012, recreational sales are 
60 percent to 70 percent of the market. But both sectors keep 
expanding, with $486 million in total sales in the first five months of 2016.

That's why many of California's medical marijuana businesses welcome 
legalization: It offers potential to significantly grow their markets.

And if Colorado is a guide, there could be longer-term economic 
advantages for the medical marijuana sector should the initiative pass.

Recreational prices recently plummeted in the Rocky Mountain state 
thanks to a glut in supply, but medical prices have held steady. In 
addition, the California ballot measure would exempt cannabis 
patients from paying sales taxes, which would help keep consumer costs down.

A lot of how Prop. 64 plays out here would depend on how cities and 
counties react, Gieringer said, since they'd control what types, if 
any, of marijuana businesses could operate within their boundaries. 
They also could impose additional local taxes, which some local 
governments are already gearing up to do.

"We could have a lot of communities in California where they will 
allow medical dispensaries and not adult use," Gieringer said. "In 
that scenario, medical will have a stronger future."


For Californians who don't have major medical problems  such as those 
who nibble an edible rather than swallow sleeping pills to doze off 
legalization means they'd no longer have to spend time and money 
getting a doctor's recommendation to use marijuana.

"The average patient who doesn't have really special needs in 
cannabis is probably better off," Gieringer said.

Distinguishing casual users from people with more serious medical 
conditions might also offer patients some of the legitimacy they've 
long struggled to get.

Here are other protections Prop. 64 offers for medical marijuana patients:

It lowers penalties for many marijuana-related crimes, with those 
changes applied retroactively, which potentially means resentencing 
and clearing records for those who've long worked in and benefited 
from the medical marijuana industry.

It says marijuana use alone can't be used to restrict custody rights 
for patients complying with state law.

It caps fees at $100 to get optional ID cards confirming their status 
as patients. Many counties now charge $150 to $175. The measure also 
protects card data under the state's Confidentiality of Medical 
Information Act.

And with California the world's sixth-largest economy, experts 
predict a boost in protections here could increase access for medical 
marijuana patients throughout the country.


For many patients, their biggest concern is how the measure might 
impact the price of their medicine.

Prop. 64 would tax all marijuana sales at 15 percent and cultivation 
at $9.25 per ounce for dry flowers or $2.75 per ounce for leaves.

If patients have a government-issued ID card, they can skip the state 
sales tax. They'd still pay the 15 percent tax imposed by Prop. 64, 
plus whatever portion of the cultivation tax and regulatory 
compliance costs might get passed along. And they may face additional 
local taxes allowed under the measure.

The intent is to keep medical marijuana affordable enough that 
patients can still buy it without making it so comparatively cheap 
that recreational users will stay in that market, said Richard 
Miadich, a Sacramento attorney representing the legalization campaign.

For those who use marijuana for minor health conditions or to get 
high, Rice said higher prices under legalization may be worth it to 
avoid doctor's recommendations or legal issues. But for people like 
her, who use the drug daily to function, those taxes could mean a big hit.

"It's going to make people who genuinely need medication not be able 
to get it at a reasonable price," she said.

Two legislators are attempting to tax medical marijuana even if the 
ballot measure doesn't pass.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, is pushing a bill that would tax 
medical cultivators at a rate nearly identical to what Prop. 64 
proposes. And Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, authored a bill that 
calls for a 10 percent medical marijuana tax.

Some medical marijuana advocates still have a lingering distrust of 
the people who are the face of the ballot initiative.

Sean Parker, a billionaire who co-founded Napster, is the campaign's 
largest contributor. And Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been a key 
supporter, though he's repeatedly said he doesn't like marijuana.

"If you disconnect from the people who built this, they will 
disconnect from you," Taft said.

But campaign spokesman Jason Kinney points out that hundreds of 
stakeholder groups helped draft the measure.

"We encourage both patients and business owners to look beyond the 
internal divisions that have hindered the marijuana activist 
community in the past and read the measure in full," Kinney said. The 
initiative, he insisted, "takes great pains to protect the rights of 
those who have been on the front lines of this fight."
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