Marijuana: Stigma decreasing, use increasing


Since Proposition (Prop.) 215 passed in 1996 with a 55.58 percent majority, the marijuana debate has yet to de-escalate. Prop. 215 passed the first medical marijuana law in California and the U.S. legalizing physician prescribed marijuana to patients with acute needs.

In more recent years, voters have been asked whether or not recreational marijuana should be legalized, and in 2010 it was put to the vote in Prop. 19.  While the 2010 majority voted against legalizing recreational marijuana, Californians will be asked once again to cast their vote on the same issue in 2016.

In retrospect the passage of Prop. 215 opened a big can of worms. On one hand, the intent of the law was to help seriously ill Californians by guaranteeing the right of patients to obtain and use marijuana when prescribed by caregivers. It purposed to protect caregivers and patients from criminal prosecution. The law, however well-intended, was not without major problems.

After its passage, the law enforcement community struggled to differentiate between patients and illegal users. Cities and counties across the state used the vague language of Prop 215 to set up their own policies concerning the medical marijuana.

These policies only served to undermine the law and intimidate patients and strengthened the black market, as Stephen Gutwilig, the Deputy Executive of Programs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told the Los Angeles Times in 2009.

In an attempt to mediate the problems, several bills have been enacted. Governor Gray Davis signed the Senate Bill (SB) 420 in 2003, establishing the Medical Marijuana Program and creating the voluntary medical marijuana identification system.

In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed SB 1449 and made the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of illegal marijuana the same as a traffic violation. SB 1449 intended to further decriminalize marijuana and save California taxpayers by freeing up the court system of an untold number of trivial offenses.

Today, the debate continues as more medical marijuana laws are passed across the U.S., and states like Colorado and Washington have legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

When legalization was up for the California vote in 2010, law enforcement lobbyist, John Lovell, expressed concern that legalizing marijuana would cost taxpayers more than it would be worth in tax revenue. These concerns still exist.

As Lovell explained, law enforcement currently does not have a way to measure whether or not a driver is impaired, because the primary psychoactive component in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Unlike alcohol, THC is fat soluble and can stay in a person’s system for much longer than it would physically impair an individual. This makes it difficult for law enforcement to determine whether or not a driver can safely operate a vehicle. The added stress to law enforcement may lead to many unnecessary arrests.

The youth population has also been affected as more marijuana laws are passed. The concern that an imposed tax on marijuana would strengthen the black market and lead to more youth offenses has been supported by a recent 2015 study conducted by Florida International University (FIU) researchers.

This nationwide study shows that the percentage of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who report recreational use has increased following the passage of medical marijuana laws. Lead author of the study and Professor of Criminal Justice at FIU, Lisa Stolzenburg, said that the most likely cause of this rise in juvenile use is that the medical marijuana laws diminish the social stigma.

Next: Marijuana in Tulare County and Three Rivers

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