AS WE APPROACH the one-year anniversary of recreational cannabis legalization in Oregon, it's easy to forget about the prohibitionist forces that aren't happy about it. This is a mistake, though—these opponents are spending massive amounts of time, money, and energy to roll back the progress that's been made.
I've always struggled to understand who these prohibitionists are. I get that some religious people have a moral objection to cannabis and its use—which they've somehow extrapolated from that very popular book about the zombie miracle worker with a cool beverage party trick, who struggled with some serious daddy issues before being immortalized as a white Middle Easterner who looks like the Dude.
For others, it's a concern that children can gain access to cannabis, and that early development may be hampered by its use. Of all the arguments made by those who fear legalization, this is the one I understand the most. But I still have yet to meet anyone, ever, who has suggested that providing kids with recreational weed is a great idea. Let's drop the argument of legitimate medical use (pediatric epilepsy, cancer treatments), or how a child using cannabis recreationally has potentially far fewer negative or lethal effects than alcohol or prescription pill use. Young children smoking weed is not cool, never has been, and we should all do what we can to eliminate that scenario.
Now let's cast our red-eyed gaze southward to that nation state, California, and see how they're faring with their plans to vote for recreational use this November. Who is organizing and raising money against the legalization efforts?
Meet John Lovell, a Sacramento-based lobbyist whose main clients include police chiefs and prison guard supervisors, according to news website the Intercept. Lovell created a committee, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, which has raised $60,000 in the first three months of 2016, based on a disclosure filed in May. The funds came from groups like the California Police Chiefs Association, Riverside Sheriffs' Association, Los Angeles Police Protective League's Issues PAC, and California Correctional Supervisor's Organization. These groups stand to lose federal grant money from the US Department of Justice, including grants that are specifically focused on marijuana.
But wait, there's more. Let's not forget two words that make law enforcement agencies drool with anticipation: "asset forfeiture." That's when these enforcement agencies seize property and cash associated with drug busts. Law enforcement agencies frequently share in the proceeds from their ill-gotten booty. And it's not an insubstantial amount: In California between 2002 and 2012, the amount for marijuana asset forfeiture was an astounding $181.4 million, according to the Intercept. Lovell wasn't about to let that sweet teat of cash get cut off, so in 2015, he helped defeat measures that would have reformed asset forfeiture. Why fix what's broken if you're making money from it, regardless of the toll it takes on people of color? Fun history fact: We started a civil war in this country over this type of thing.
Prison guards are also reluctant to see the laws change in favor of less punishment. In 2008, the union of prison guards in California helped defeat Proposition 5, which would have diverted nonviolent drug offenders away from prison. What's the point of having prisons if you can't fill them beyond capacity with young, poor, nonviolent people of color? For prison industrialists and those employed by them, that's how the cash cow is milked.
It's not just California. The sunburnt ballsack of the East Coast, Florida, defeated a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2014 with the help of law enforcement officials and their argument that weed is bad, and kids, and stuff.
Here's the good news: California legalization supporters have already raised more than $2.25 million to counter the prohibitionists, and 60 percent of the state's likely voters are in favor of legalization. A win would make California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska meccas of regulated, taxed cannabis usage, helping to raise millions if not billions of tax dollars, while reducing the number of nonviolent cannabis users helping prison guards keep their jobs. If you have friends in California, please remind them what's at stake this November.