Veteran attorney Bruce Margolin is Executive Director of the Los Angeles chapter of NORML and author of The Margolin Guide to Marijuana Laws. For more than 40 years, he has been advocating for cannabis legalization in both the state of California and at the federal level.
In an exclusive interview with MERRY JANE, Margolin shared his thoughts about California’s Proposition 64. The initiative, if approved by voters, would result in a law called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The controversial ballot initiative is predicted to pass and would make possession, consumption, and limited cultivation of pot legal for adults in the nation’s most populous state.
MERRY JANE: California pioneered legal medical cannabis 20 years ago. But now Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are ahead for adult use. How does this translate to AUMA?
Bruce Margolin: Over the years, we’ve been putting otherwise good people in jail because of the ambiguities and the unfairness of the marijuana laws. So now AUMA has morphed these laws into involving licenses instead of incarceration.
AUMA will replace the cumbersome laws that have put so many people in jeopardy of going to jail, losing their livelihood, and destroying their families.
The Los Angeles Times, on Oct. 4, ran an article entitled “The push to legalize pot for all has deeply divided the medical marijuana community.” Is that what you see?
I think there’s a certain number of people out there who want to aggrandize themselves by being naysayers. Everything is bad, it’s horrible, it’s terrible. I don’t think it’s deeply divided at all. I think there are a few people who misunderstand the laws.
People are saying that the medical marijuana people are going to be pushed out of business because of taxes and because patients won’t be able to afford marijuana. To that I say: The cost of marijuana is going to go down tremendously. It happened in Colorado; it’ll happen in California. With competition coming into place, prices will drop significantly.
Nobody likes taxes. But they’re a reality of life. And taxes are better than incarceration. We’re talking about legalizing marijuana. It’ll take the stigma out of it and remove all of the [negative] things that have come with the enforcement of these terrible marijuana laws that we’ve had in place in California since 1915.
How else do you believe that AUMA would be better than Proposition 215?
The right of patients in California to grow marijuana, which was established by Prop 215, are no longer in place. This is because the Court of Appeals has held that the land use rights of cities and counties override the rights of patients to grow marijuana. In the County of Los Angeles, for example, patients can’t grow one seed of marijuana...not one plant.
Also, under AUMA, probable cause based on smell is not legal, which is huge! That’s been their tool to arrest people. So what’s the division about? These naysayers are the people who are not reading AUMA carefully and don’t want to listen to the facts.
I know people in Northern California who are very anxious to hold onto their little fiefdom up there and their monopoly. We had Prop 19 [California’s 2010 adult use initiative] on the ballot; they fucked it up by not voting for it. We lost by just a few percentage points as a result. I hope that doesn’t happen again.
In my mind, anyone who wants to vote against legalization is doing a disservice to themselves and to all the other people who suffer under the current laws. Under AUMA, you can have an ounce and give it away or drive around with it; you can grow it in your house.
What about the claim by some AUMA opponents that it will wipe out dispensaries?
Dispensaries are already destroyed because Senate Bill 420 is finished in 2018. AB-266 says that, by 2018, you have to have both a local license and a state license to be in business. It has nothing to do with AUMA. It has to do with AB-266, passed by the legislature in 2015. Dispensaries are dead!
What message would you like to deliver to voters in California regarding Prop 64?
Unequivocally, without reservation, yes on 64. Stop putting our brothers and sisters in jail. Let’s take the stigma out of marijuana and let it be what it should be: A sacred herb given to us by the divine for whatever purpose we want, whether it’s medical, so-called recreational, or spiritual.