Day 215: Prop 215

originally published August 2, 2012

To those of you who have been asking if Day 420 is going to feature an article about marijuana, the answer is probably not. Too obvious, and besides, the use of ‘420’ as slang for smoking pot was uncommon in my youth. I will, however, spend today discussing 215. Specifically, California Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

Let me paint the scene for you. In 1996 marijuana was illegal pretty much everywhere. The justice system in America and Canada had eased up somewhat since the 60’s, but there was no legitimate way to have pot in your possession. Then along came Prop 215.

Dennis Peron, whose partner had used marijuana to treat some of the more ravaging symptoms of AIDS, launched something called Proposition P in San Francisco. Prop P had no legal standing, but it passed with 79% of the vote and effectively declared San Francisco as supporting the concept of medical marijuana. Anyone surprised that this movement began in San Francisco clearly knows absolutely nothing about the city.

Santa Cruz was next, followed by a string of Californian cities who were lining up to endorse medical doobage.

The list of medical conditions whose symptoms that can be alleviated with medical cannabis include bipolar disorder, epilepsy, MS, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, spinal cord injuries, leukemia, sleep apnea, migraines, psoriasis, depression, asthma, sickle-cell disease, colorectal cancer, and (as any person who has tried to eat just one Dorito whilst high will attest) anorexia. There are others, and the principle side effects are limited to possible psychological addiction and increased Twinkie intake.

Medical marijuana bills were passed through the California legislature, and no one ever suffered again. The end. Well, that may have been the case, except for this guy:

This sopping sack of compacted douchery is Governor Pete Wilson. Pete’s the kind of guy who looks at frail cancer patients, MS sufferers in anguish, and a thriving criminal underworld and says, “Yes! Let’s keep things just the way they are!”

Pete’s veto power killed medical marijuana in California. The fight went on. As of this writing, Pete is no longer governor and from what I can tell, he’s still in fine health. I truly hope he never becomes inflicted with some serious malady, though if that happens, I hope he is able to gain access to treatment just as inexpensive and effective as medical marijuana, but without the side effects of potentially bringing down our entire civilization.

Dennis Peron wasn’t done fighting. He organized Californians for Compassionate Use, a Political Action Committee committed to landing medical marijuana on the 1996 ballot. He needed 400,000 signatures, and when it looked like he was going to come up short, he got help from these people:

From the left, that’s George Soros, Peter Lewis, and George Zimmer. These three philanthropists pitched in and hired a group of professional petition circulators (kids! There’s a job you never knew existed!), to snag the necessary signatures. 215 was on the ballot.

Law enforcement officials, drug prevention groups, the Attorney General’s office, religious zealots, worrisome busybodies, Imperial Stormtroopers, and Satan all vocally opposed the passage of 215. Reagan and GHW Bush were on the record against it, as was then-president Clinton.

Still, it was a Democrat-heavy state in a year when a fairly popular Democrat president was seeking reelection – kind of like now. It was the right time for someone to make this happen, and California was unquestionably the place for it to happen. And happen it did, with 55.6% of the vote.

The initiative was implemented through the state Senate Bill… wait for it… 420.

No, ‘420’ as smoke-slang has nothing to do with this; it’s pure coincidence. Both San Bernardino County and San Diego (home of former Governor Pete “The Fink” Wilson) refused to implement the new program, but the California Supreme Court kicked their hesitation aside and told them they had to. It should be noted that San Diego County did vote ‘Yes’ on Prop 215, so someone was just being a dick about it.

Now anyone with a valid card can venture into an appropriate care facility and purchase up to eight ounces of legal weed. But it’s more than that – a lot of people, particularly sick people, don’t want to smoke it. My dad was once a card-carrying Californian, and he brought home candies, skin spray and breath-strips, all containing legal cannabis. It was a rough time for him, but on some level he’d found a way to enjoy it.

The catch is that marijuana is still illegal on a federal level. The US Department of Justice launched a judicial offensive on places that were distributing marijuana to patients in California.

I’d always hoped that Clinton’s lame “I smoked pot once but never inhaled” line was merely a wink-heavy way to say that he was fine with legalized marijuana, but it would have been political suicide for him to state that explicitly. Nevertheless, his administration was vehement in upholding this particular federal law in California. Things got worse when Bush Jr. took over; over 50 raids were conducted on compassion clubs in 2007 alone.

On March 18, 2009 – less than two months after Obama took office – Attorney General Eric Holder declared that the current administration would end the Bush-era raids on distributors of medical marijuana. That said, there have still been over a million pot-related arrests since Obama took over. The war isn’t over yet.

But it’s getting there. Legitimization in California sent a shockwave of similar proposals in state legislatures all over the country – well, not so much in the deep south, but they’re always a little behind things. Canada jumped on board, and many countries in Europe have loosened up their medical weed laws to varying degrees. Other parts of the world, such as Australia, are still behind the times.

The world is waking up on this issue. Legislators are realizing that their time, and the time spent by everyone in the justice system fighting the use of marijuana could be better spent.

It’s important for Americans to remember that while Obama has taken a strong stance toward decriminalizing marijuana, Mitt Romney has actively campaigned against it, even for people suffering from serious medical conditions. Better to pop three $30 pills full of chemicals to fight the agony than light up a joint. Keep that in mind come November – Mitt wants you to suffer.

And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? Sure, I’m still prohibited from smoking weed because I thankfully don’t have a debilitating condition. And because it’s illegal, I have never personally tried the stuff. (cough, cough… must be something in my throat, sorry) But I feel with every fiber of my everythingness that someone who’s suffering deserves to enjoy this almost completely harmless drug. Let’s open it up for them first, then hopefully realize that we all deserve to enjoy it if we want to.

After all, aren’t we all suffering on some existential level? Please?

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