Marijuana has been restricted under federal law since the early 1900s. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 made possession or transfer of cannabis illegal throughout the United States under federal law. In 1969 Congress repealed the Marihuana Tax Act and passed the Controlled Substances Act as Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. The act claims that marijuana has no medical value and can be considered harmful. As a result, it is illegal to possess, use, buy, sell, or cultivate marijuana under federal law. Beginning in the 1970s, many state and local governments in the United States started to decriminalize marijuana. Most places that have decriminalized the drug have substituted civil fines, drug education, and drug treatment for incarceration.
Under current state law (California Health and Safety Code Section 11357.), the possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana is illegal in California. Penalties for marijuana-related activities vary depending on the offense. Possession of one ounce or less is considered a misdemeanor and is punishable by a maximum $100 fine. Selling marijuana in any amount is considered a felony and is punishable by 2-4 years in state prison. California voters passed Proposition 36 in 2000, which allowed first- and second-time possession-only offenders to demand treatment instead of jail time. Once the treatment program has been successfully completed, possession offenses are expunged from the record after two years.
In November 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized the cultivation and possession of marijuana in California for medical purposes. Then, California legislators passed Senate Bill 420 in 2003 which clarified Proposition 215's mandates. SB 420's newly created guidelines required patients to receive a recommendation from their physician for use of the drug and then apply for a medical Marijuana Identification Card through their county health departments. The departments undertake the initial screening of patients and then the state health department issue the cards. Administrative costs at both the county and state level are covered by card application fees. The state portion of the application fee is $66 per card for non Medi-Cal patients and $33 per card for Medi-Cal patients. County fees vary and are added to the state fees.
Despite having the authority, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in March 2009 that the Barack Obama administration would not prosecute marijuana patients and providers whose actions are consistent with state medical marijuana laws.
Possession and Cultivation
Proposition 19 would change state law to legalize possession and cultivation of a limited amount of marijuana for personal use for individuals age 21 or older. Proposition 19 mandates that individuals of the right age may "possess, process, share, or transport not more than one ounce of cannabis, solely for that individual’s personal consumption, and not for sale."
Lawful owners or renters could grow marijuana plants on private property in an area 25 square feet or less. Cultivation on leased or rented property would be subject to approval from the property owner. Users could not consume the drug in a public place or in any place where minors are present. Individuals are banned from using the drug while operating motor vehicles, airplanes, and boats. Under the measure, the state and local governments could authorize the use and cultivation of larger amounts of marijuana.
Proposition 19 would forbid employers from punishing, firing, or discriminating against individuals for engaging in marijuana use as outlined by the measure. Employers would retain the right of addressing marijuana use which might impair an employee's performance while working. Any individual age 21 or older is banned from knowingly giving marijuana to any individuals 18 to 20 years of age. Proposition 19 would not alter existing laws concerning adults who give marijuana to individuals under 18.
Proposition 19 authorizes local governments to establish guidelines for retail sale and regulation, cultivation, processing, transportation, and distribution of marijuana. Different localities could adopt different restrictions. For example, a local government could regulate the location and hours of a licensed marijuana establishment. Proposition 19 would allow the transport of marijuana from a licensed establishment in one locality to a licensed establishment in another locality. The measure bans individuals from transporting marijuana outside the state. Any licensed marijuana seller who sells to a person under 21 would be barred from operating or owning an establishment for one year. Local governments are given discretion to impose additional fines or penalties on certain marijuana activities.
Proposition 19 authorizes the state to regulate the commercial production of the drug whether or not a local government engages in any form of regulation. Marijuana establishments would be required to pay all federal, state, and local taxes and fees that similar businesses pay (such as a liquor store). Local governments are given the authority to impose new taxes on marijuana and related activities, provided the charges are to raise revenue for the locality and/or pay for any costs involved with marijuana regulation. The state could also impose new taxes.
The measure also gives the state the right to authorize the production of hemp. Hemp is a durable fiber that is cultivated from the sativa marijuana plant. It can be used to create paper, clothing, building materials, and food products. Hemp was commonly used in the United States prior to the industrial revolution and the institution of federal and state marijuana laws.
Some states currently allow some form of hemp cultivation. In 1999, the California Assembly authorized the legislature to "consider" legalizing industrial hemp use as well as authorizing them to direct state universities and agencies to prepare a study on the cultivation and marketing of hemp. There is no evidence of a study having been undertaken.
If Proposition 19 passes, marijuana use and possession will still be illegal under federal law. Federal agencies such as the FBI or DEA could choose to prosecute individuals for engaging in activities that are authorized by Proposition 19. While President Barack Obama announced that federal government agencies would not be prosecuting medical marijuana patients and providers in California, he has not said how the federal government will react to full state legalization.