California: The Year in Drugs

Friday, January 02, 2015

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) did not have a spot for favorite son California on its Top 10 List of significant events in 2014. But the folks at the Drug Policy Alliance say the state had a good year reforming some of its more egregious practices.     

A new law, Senate Bill 1010, eliminates the disparity in sentencing between crack and powder cocaine. In 2010, the federal government reduced the disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, maintaining a distinct disadvantage for the poorer crack clientele. The state law, which had been bandied about in some form for a decade, took effect on Thursday.

Lawmakers extended legislation about to sunset that allows the sale of hypodermic needles and syringes to individuals without a prescription. It also lifts the cap on the number that can be sold.

The marketplace has had a pretty effective drug for treating opiate overdoses since the Federal Drug Authority (FDA) approved Naloxone in the 1970s. But it wasn’t sold permitted to be sold over the counter in California until legislators passed Assembly Bill 1535.

The lifetime state ban for recipients of food stamps and other benefits convicted of a drug felony was repealed in September 2014 through inclusion in an omnibus budget trailer that was effectively veto proof. It takes effect in April.

Drug crimes were among the range of offenses voters reduced from felonies to misdemeanors when they passed Proposition 47. The law also allows people to have their drug convictions reclassified as lesser crimes.

Perhaps California’s greatest success was legislation it didn’t pass. Senate Bill 1262 would have established a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs, with a licensing and regulatory framework much like the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). The federal government has aggressively cracked down on medical marijuana sales in California, citing the chaotic fashion in which the state has rolled out its policy.

It would have included: restrictions on the number of licensed growers; annual audits of licensees; authorization for counties to tax cultivation and sale with voter approval; pot transportation requirements; limits on which doctors can prescribe the drug; and establishment of a fee-based fund to pay for enforcement and administration.

But advocates of legalized medical and recreational pot said the legislation, proposed by the state’s police chiefs, contained poison pill elements that would have gutted the industry in some regions.

Drug laws continue to lag behind a fast shift in public opinion. Less than one in five Americans favored legalizing marijuana 25 years ago. A majority has been in favor for two years.

The rubber probably hits the road in 2016 when five states are likely to have referendums on recreational marijuana. California is expected to be among them. Up until now, attention has been focused on how the legalization issue is playing out in local, state and federal legislative and judicial venues, where conflicting laws and legal interpretations have caused an incongruously mixed stagnation and chaos.

But Boston Globe reporter Evan Horowitz thinks that all might be moot. He points out the U.S. is party to international treaties that ban legalization of marijuana. A federal government that still defends its own felony treatment of pot to unhappy locals might not be a champion for change on the international stage.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Californians Won Major Drug Policy Victories in 2014 (by Lynne Lyman, Drug Policy Alliance)

In 2014, Many States Experimented with Marijuana Laws (by Evan Horowitz, Boston Globe)

2014: The Year in Review—NORML’s Top 10 Events that Shaped Marijuana Policy (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws)

Senate Committee Buries Statewide Medical Marijuana Regulation (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Leave a comment