In an exclusive interview with Global Ganja Report, leading California cannabis crusader Chris Conrad and his longtime activist wife Mikki Norrisrespond to the charges made by Dennis Peron and “Stoners Against Legalization” that Proposition 19 would create new felonies and overturn gains established by the state’s medical marijuana statutes, Proposition 215 and SB 420. Conrad and Norris spoke with Global Ganja Report Sept. 16 at a Mexican restaurant in North Berkeley.
GGR: Why don’t you start by telling the readers who you are…
CC: I’m Chris Conrad. I founded the Business Alliance for Commerce in Hemp. I worked on the drafting of SB 420, and I’ve been working as an expert witness in the courts for years. I’ve been cited in numerous state court decisions. I helped draft most of the major cannabis initiatives that have been introduced in California. And I’m the publisher of West Coast Leaf.
MN: I’m Mikki Norris. I worked with Chris at the Hash, Marijuana and Hemp Museum in Amsterdam. I started the Human Rights and the Drug War photo exhibit, which has gone around the country and got turned into a book, Shattered Lives: Portraits of America’s Drug War. I’m the director of the Cannabis Consumers Campaign. I was a consultant on the initiatives in 2006 that made cannabis law enforcement’s lowest priority in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and West Hollywood.
GGR: The Stop 19 website contains the following bullet points, mostly based on Peron’s allegations. It states: “How will Prop 19 affect you? Are you age 18-20? You will not be allowed to consume cannabis legally under Prop 19. Currently, all you need is a medical recommendation to do so.” True or false?
CC: After Prop 19, all you will need is a medical recommendation to do so.
GGR: So what is the basis for this mis-apprehension?
MN: For non-medical use, it won’t be allowed under Prop 19, like it is not allowed currently. So the new law will not change the status of 18-to-20-year-olds, whether they are medical users or not.
CC: Right. A lot of people are saying Prop 19 will overturn all the medical marijuana laws—which of course it won’t.
GGR: So why is there this widespread apprehension that Prop 19 will overturn certain aspects of 215? Is there a kernel of truth here that is being distorted?
CC: There’s nothing to it whatsoever. The medical marijuana laws created a special class of protected individuals—qualified patients, caregivers, collectives. But Prop 19 was written for the non-medical users. So none of those terms is cited anywhere as being affected by Prop 19 whatsoever. In fact, it says “notwithstanding any other statute or law,” meaning that Prop 19 would have dominance over any other law that interfered with it. So if a patient can have eight ounces, it doesn’t interfere with the right of an adult to have one ounce. There is no conflict between them.
Prop 19’s “purpose number seven” and “purpose number eight” both state specifically that Prop 215 and SB 420 will be honored. And perhaps this is the kernel of this misunderstanding, as you phrased it—people commonly refer to “Prop 215” and “SB 420.” But those don’t really exist any more. Prop 215 passed and it became Health and Safety Code 11362.5. SB 420 passed and it became Health and Safety Code 11362.7. But when people read the wording of Prop 19, they don’t see “Prop 215” or “SB 420” as protected. They don’t know that 11362.5 and 11362.7 are Prop 215 and SB 420.
Maybe that’s the kernel of the problem. They’re looking for these words that are just historical terms—that was the number of the bill, that was number of the initiative. But they’re not the actual names of the laws. So people are looking for the wrong thing.
MN: Now it is illegal for anyone who doesn’t have a medical marijuana recommendation. Now its a misdemeanor. After January 1, it will be infraction for under an ounce [thanks to this year’s SB 1449], but for over an ounce it will still be a misdemeanor….
GGR: Not if Prop 19 passes…
MN: Not if Prop 19 passes. Then, anyone 21 or over will be exempted from the law.
CC: Dennis Peron in his YouTube interview said a lot of things which are not true. He said Prop 19 will add new felonies, which is not true. He said it modifies Prop 215, which is not true. He said it could not be modified by the state legislature to correct any potential defects, which is not true. These are the three key myths. People think if Dennis Peron said it, it must be right. But it’s not.
GGR: Why should we believe Chris Conrad as opposed to Dennis Peron?
CC: If you read the initiative, you’ll see that what I’m saying is correct and what he’s saying is not correct. Except you have to know how to read it. Like I said, if you don’t know what the Health and Safety codes are, you’re not going to know that Prop 215 and SB 420 are protected. If you don’t know what there are already felonies under state law, you think that because some felonies are mentioned in the initiative means that they’re new. But I work in the courts, I know they’re not new.
MN: People have to know what “notwithstanding” means.
GGR: What does “notwithstanding” mean?
CC: It means that if any other statute is in conflict,with Prop 19, then Prop 19 would take dominance.
GGR: The website states: “Do you interact with anyone under age of 21? You will be looking at up to 6 months in jail for passing them a joint. (If the person is under 18 you will be looking at up to 7 years in prison.)” What do you say to that?
MN: Don’t do it in front of a cop.
CC: The seven years is already law. The only thing that’s changed is that whereas now there’s a $100 ticket for passing to a person between the ages of 18 and 21, under Prop 19 you could potentially get up to six months in jail. That’s correct. Except if the person is a medical patient.
GGR: So this is an instance in which Prop 19 is going to make the law more stringent?
CC: This is the only place. This is the single place where it does that. What they did is take the penalty for giving alcohol to minor, which goes up to a year, and they cut it in half.
GGR: What’s the logic of that?
CC: The polls show that voters wanted to make it harder for kids to get access to it. But the penalties are completely non-mandatory. There’s an optional penalty which is only half as harsh for the penalty for alcohol—which is mandatory, by the way.
In California, if the law doesn’t say the penalty is mandatory, then it’s optional. So a judge could throw it out completely, which is probably what would happen—especially if its just someone passing a joint to someone.
And you have to be over 21 yourself, and it has to be knowing. Otherwise you’re exempt. But that is the one thing that the voters wanted tougher.
GGR: The website states: “Do you live in the same ‘space’ as a minor? (Space could mean anything from the same house to an entire apartment complex.) You will not be allowed to consume cannabis.” True or false?
MN: I don’t think that a “space” is a whole house. I don’t think your bedroom is the same space as your living room. I don’t think your yard or your garage is the same as your kitchen. The text doesn’t say “same residence.” The word “space” leaves a lot up to interpretation.
GGR: But isn’t it dangerous to leave that to interpretation?
CC: That wording is there to address concerns about smoking in front of minors, and second-hand smoke. It’s worth mentioning that there’s a provision to allow the legislature to make amendments, and there’s already an amendment proposed to exempt families from this. So the ability is preserved to reduce restrictions.
And the courts aren’t going to interpret “space” so broadly. It would be unconstitutionally vague.
GGR: Still, doesn’t this open the door to battles in the courts and in the legislature?
CC: Well, it doesn’t change it from what the law is now. It just says the initiative doesn’t authorize smoking around kids. It doesn’t criminalize it either.
GGR: So it doesn’t make the law worse here, it just fails to make it better.
MN: It is generally not advisable to have smoking and cultivation going on where kids are around. Child Protective Services can be called in, even for medical marijuana patients. That’s an unfortunate reality.
CC: The initiative was not written to make stoners immune from taxes and business licenses and all social standards. That’s not what the voters wanted. This was written to get something that the voters will pass, and make it so that the legislature can never make marijuana illegal again. They can only reduce the penalties and increase the access to it. That is the key point.
GGR: So the state legislature cannot overturn a voter initiative.
CC: That’s right. If this passes, they can’t make marijuana illegal ever again.
MN: They cannot amend this initiative except to make it less restrictive.
CC: So industrial hemp and a statewide distribution network are next if it passes… At a minimum, a reasonable amount for adults in California will be legal forever. That’s what these people don’t seem to understand.
GGR: The website states: “Do you rent your home? Prop 19 will only allow you to grow cannabis if you have permission from your landlord. Due to the risks involved, many (if not most) California landlords do not allow it. How is this legalization?”
CC: How is this legalization? Right now, your landlord can tell you whether you have a dog or not. He can tell you whether you have a water bed or not. Landlords can tell people stuff here in California. Does this mean dogs are illegal? No. Dogs are legal. And marijuana will be legal.
If you own your own property, then no-one can stop you from growing your own. But landlords still have the right to protect their property. You can’t move in and turn the whole house into a grow house without talking to him about it first.
And under the initiative, unless your landlord specifically denies you permission, you have that right. So if you don’t want to sign a lease that states you can’t grow marijuana, you can seek housing somewhere else.
GGR: The website states: “Do you grow cannabis with a doctor recommendation? Prop 19 will likely be interpreted by law enforcement and judges to limit your grow space to 5’x5′.”
CC: Medical users have the right to a “reasonable amount” under California state law—under the Mower, Trippet and Kelly decisions. These are all still going to be in place; you will have the same right as a patient that you always did.
MN: There might be an attempt by some cities to try something like that, but hopefully people will stand up for their rights and influence how the regulations are being made.
CC: It wouldn’t stand in the courts anyway. The courts aren’t going to forget 14 years of case law. They can’t. The Supreme Court won’t let them.
GGR: The website states: “Do you provide your extra medical cannabis to dispensaries? It will be a crime to do so if Prop 19 passes. In addition, large Oakland growers and tobacco companies will take control of the market and push you out.”
CC: A crime to supply to dispensaries? Not true. Fundamentally not true. Look, once you make the mistake of thinking Prop 19 changes the medical marijuana laws, you’re going to come up with a lot of crazy notions…
GGR: And what about the notion that big Oakland growers will take over the market? What does the Oakland ordinance that licenses big medical grow operations have to do with Prop 19?
CC: Absolutely nothing. And it has nothing to do with tobacco companies either. We were worried 20 years ago that the tobacco companies would take over if marijuana was ever made legal. But we found just the opposite—they fund the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, they fund the opposition to legalizing marijuana. And they make more money through their interstate tobacco business than they would make here in California selling legal marijuana. Because of Article 1 Section 8 of the US Constitution, it would be insane for the tobacco companies to start growing in California. They have truckers driving all over the country and massive international exports. They’d start losing their licenses like nobody else.
MN: There was a rumor that the tobacco companies were buying up large tracts of land in California to grow marijuana. And they dispelled it.
In a free-market economy, you are going to have all kinds of businesses involved—some large, some small. I think it may be like beer, where you have some major corporations like Coors and Miller that offer an inferior product, and then micro-breweries that we always buy from. I think there’s gonna be room for all kinds, and may the best cannabis win.
CC: But because it is a state initiative, it favors state-confined businesses, which will leave more room for small growers.
MN: In Oakland, they are giving out the permits on the basis of whether the businesses are green, whether they create jobs. This can be a sustainable industry.
CC: People shouldn’t be mad at Oakland for doing this. They should be mad at their own city councils for not doing it. If Oakland is creating jobs through cannabis, other communities are going to learn from what’s going on there. So don’t criticize Oakland for doing the right thing—pressure your own city government to do it!
GGR: The website states: “Do you currently have to use your medical cannabis anywhere but home? Prop 19 will prevent patients from using their medicine anywhere in pubic. Which for many people with illnesses is not always possible.”
CC: It states that it does not authorize public smoking. But it doesn’t say it bans it.
MN: Again, we don’t know what the regulations are going to look like. There can be spaces provided in public for medical users. Lobby your city government, or run for office.
GGR: What is the status of public use currently in California?
CC: Currently its a misdemeanor with a $100 ticket—for non-medical use. And about to go down to an infraction with a $100 ticket. The status of medical use in public is not clear. It is not addressed in any law.
GGR: The website states: “Do you sell your extra medical cannabis to other medical patients? Prop 19 will make this practice illegal. Even if you are only selling it to cover your growing cost.” True or false?
CC: Not true. That’s another way Prop 19 doesn’t change the law!
MN: It isn’t like you can always do it now. Chris gets cases all the time where people are dragged into court for selling their cannabis to collectives, even when they’re members. There are prosecutors all over the state who will tell you can’t do that.
CC: It comes back to this double myth, that this activity is already protected and that Prop 19 will take those protections away. I’ve worked on thousands of cases over the past 15 years, so I know it is not like that. Prop 19 will only relieve the pressure.
For instance, most of the cases I’ve seen are medical marijuana cases, and many concern a lapsed doctor’s note. Under Prop 19, that will no longer be a problem.
GGR: Finally, the website states: “Not only will the Government impose excessive taxes under Prop 19, but the federal government will likely respond with unprecedented action against California cannabis users.” Then it appears to directly quote Dennis Peron: “The federal Controlled Substances Act makes it a felony to grow or sell cannabis. California can repeal its own marijuana laws, leaving enforcement to the feds. But it can’t legalize a federal felony. Therefore, any grower or seller paying California taxes on marijuana sales or filing pot-related California regulatory paperwork would be confessing, in writing, to multiple federal crimes.”
MN: If you pay your taxes, you’ll be in compliance with state law, and hopefully Obama will come out with another memo that protects state’s rights.
GGR: But that could be overturned if we get a Republican president. And with all the paperwork, you’ll be de facto confessing—and the feds can move in and prosecute you.
MN: I don’t trust the feds either, to tell you the truth. I don’t know what the feds are gonna do. They may try to make some examples, depending on how it’s implemented. Or they may try to get an injunction halting the sales part of Prop 19 from being implemented.
CC: As the Supreme Court has made clear, Proposition 215 did not change federal law either, and we did see the feds come in, in a very strong way. Does that mean we should not have passed Proposition 215, because the feds would retaliate? I think that’s a cowardly response to a momentous issue. The entire world is watching California to see what we do—and we’re supposed to back away from this huge victory on our issue out of fear of what the federal government is going to do? I’d say anyone who votes against it on that ground shouldn’t even be voting because they don’t have the courage it takes to be a free American in a free society!
We can’t change federal law. We do understand that. But we can challenge it. And that’s what this initiative does. I really don’t think that the United States, having just lost a war in Iraq and currently losing a war in Afghanistan, is really going to want to declare war on California.
We’ve been talking about legalization for 25 years. We shouldn’t be afraid of it because of what the federal response may be.