Due to entrenched inequities in the ways drug laws are enforced in the US, we support the decriminalization of marijuana possession. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, between 2001 and 2010, there were over eight million marijuana arrests in the United States, 88% of which were for possession. The report also finds that, on average, a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates.
Marijuana criminalization has unjustly targeted communities of color, expends billions of dollars annually on prosecuting and jailing nonviolent drug users, and exacerbated our country’s mass incarceration crisis. Legalizing marijuana for recreational use has its downsides, complexities, and potential health issues, but we believe that it is an issue better served by a public health approach, not a criminal justice one.
Prop 64 would legalize marijuana in California for anyone over 21. The initiative would hold marijuana to similar standards as tobacco and alcohol products in terms of basic packaging, labeling, and advertising requirements to protect consumer safety, youth, the environment, and communities of color. It would also blocks the selling or advertising of marijuana near schools and youth centers, and strip licenses from businesses that sell to people under 21. Prop 64 includes many notable provisions that address public health concerns and are grounded in social and economic justice principles, including:
- Anyone age 17 or younger can only receive a non-fined infraction for any marijuana violation, and at age 18 their record is sealed.
- Anybody with a California-based cannabis conviction on their record will be eligible to have their record either reduced or expunged. And anybody currently incarcerated for a crime that is affected by Prop 64 can petition to have their sentence reduced or tossed out and immediately released.
- A five-year ban on the largest commercial licenses and strict bans on monopolies (among numerous other pro-small business protections) will allow small-scale growers, processors, distributors and retailers a chance to take root before facing competition from “Big Marijuana.”
- Tax money collected from cannabis sales – projected to be $1 billion annually - will go towards research in to medical cannabis and impaired driving; youth drug treatment, prevention, and education; environmental restoration of damage caused by illegal grows; and a $50- million-per-year community re-investment fund to help the communities most adversely affected by the current system of criminalization and inequity.
Moving forward, we hope to see an even greater share of resources generated by taxing marijuana invested in community-based prevention efforts that will improve the health and wellbeing of individuals and communities. As marijuana legalization gains momentum across the country, we need to develop a system and set of norms and opportunities that promote healthier, safer, and more equitable communities, for youth and for all. And the voices of community members, who know best what their communities need, must play a key role in deciding how the money is invested to improve opportunity and support wellbeing.
Check out our positions on nearly every state ballot measure, including numerous initiatives with deep relevance for health and equity in the cities and counties of the Bay Area and Los Angeles region, where Prevention Institute has offices.