On November 5th, Californians celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of Prop 215. Photo Credit: LightFieldStudios.
After a glorious 25 years, the citizens of California and beyond are looking forward to the celebration of Proposition 215.
Prop. 215, aka The Compassionate Use Act of 1996, legalized medical cannabis in the state of California. It granted those with a doctor’s permission access to cannabis from criminal prosecution regarding the possession or cultivation of cannabis.
The proposition not only inspired a movement in California, but nationwide.
Pre Prop 215
Regarding the years prior to 1996, it’s no secret that cannabis was frowned-upon.
According to the University of Georgia School of Law, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the country saw a cultural shift in attitude towards the plant. Additionally, by the 1970s, the article states that: “Congress repealed most of the mandatory penalties for drug-related offenses [set in the 1950s]. In 1972, the bipartisan Shafer Commission, appointed by President Nixon at the direction of Congress, considered laws regarding marijuana and determined that personal use of marijuana should be decriminalized,” the law school explains. “Nixon rejected the recommendation, but over the course of the 1970s, eleven states decriminalized marijuana and most others reduced their penalties.”
Unfortunately, years later the country saw the infamous War on Drugs following the passage of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This entailed new mandatory sentences; life sentences for repeated drug offenders; and a negative connotation of cannabis in general.
However that started to change with the enactment of Prop. 215 in 1996. The bill paved the way for medical, and eventually recreational, cannabis use. It also opened people’s eyes to the plant’s potential benefits.
The Passage of Prop. 215
Before Prop. 215, there was Proposition P. Prop. P was a 1991 San Francisco Ballot Initiative that entailed the general acknowledgment and support of medical cannabis citywide. The prop was driven by the late Dennis Peron, a lifelong cannabis advocate.
According to The New York Times, when Peron discovered that his lover — Jonathan West — was dying of AIDS, he noticed the harsh side-effects of the related medications. Peron saw that cannabis eased the side-effects — including intense nausea and pain. It also helped sufferers increase their appetites. Shortly after West passed, Peron joined together with other activists to write the Prop. P.
The prop led more California cities to vocalize their support for medical cannabis. This ultimately paved the way for the passage of Prop. 215.
The citizens of California voted on Prop. 215 in November of 1996. The voters were heavily divided at the time. Candell Law states that the prop received a total of 9,684,875 votes, with 55.6% of them in favor of it.
The prop allowed for the use of medical cannabis for patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation. Patients (or their caregivers) could both possess and cultivate cannabis for personal medical usage. The illnesses that called for medical cannabis included AIDS, cancer, muscular spasticity, migraines, and several others. Prop. 215 also protected doctors who recommended medical cannabis to their patients, according to Candell Law.
Prop. 215 was the start of a slowly-building nationwide acceptance of cannabis.
For example, two years later in 1998, three more states — Alaska, Oregon and Washington — voted successfully to legalize medical cannabis. According to Britainnica’s ProCon.org, a bipartisan resource, “Fifty-eight percent of voters [in Alaska] approved, fifty-five percent of voters [in Oregon] approved, and fifty-nine percent of voters [in Washington] approved.”
Fast forward to the year 2000, Maine, Hawaii, Colorado and Nevada all voted to legalize medical cannabis. While the approvals were still slim, more states were catching wind, and the culture of the country was changing.
Today, the use of medical cannabis is legal in a total of 36 states. According to the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), as of May 27, 2021 there are approximately 1,920,294 medical cannabis patients, and a total of 5,461,491 nationwide. Currently, most Americans live in medically legal states.
With a growing number of patients comes a growing business climate. For instance, Global Market Insights states that the medical cannabis market “exceeded USD 7.2 billion in 2020 and is estimated to expand at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of 10.5% between 2021 and 2027.”
The Side Effects
Prop. 215 was a clear win for the cannabis world. However it wasn’t perfect.
Dale Gieringer, director of Cal NORML, tells Emerald that, “it [Proposition 215] was sort of vague in the way it was written and that resulted in a lot of misunderstandings of the law, which led to raids and arrests,” explains Gieringer. “At one point, we had as many as 100 people in federal prison simply for doing what they thought was legal under the medical marijuana law. I think that was the biggest problem with it.”
The proposition also spawned a green rush as a proliferation of people flocked to California to capitalize on cultivating cannabis. The number of growers multiplied, and so did the size of farms. This ultimately led to legal grey areas where it became difficult to keep track of growers and suppliers of cannabis, and difficulty ensuring legal compliance, reports The New Yorker.
Additionally, the sheer number of grows put more strain on resources such as water, explains the Water Education Foundation.
Eventually, California’s Prop. 215 eventually led to Proposition 64. Also known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), the proposition was an initiative to legalize recreational cannabis in California. It further opened floodgates in California, and helped create legal avenues and what is now the largest consumer market in the world.
Time to Celebrate
Post from @canormal on Instagram.
Cal NORML — a non-profit organization founded in 1972 dedicated to reforming California’s cannabis laws — is hosting an event to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Prop. 215.
The elegant General’s Residence at Fort Mason, San Francisco will host the event. It will include a variety of speakers including original sponsors, organizers, medical patients, attorneys and advocates of the Prop. 215 campaign.
There will also be memorials to those who have since passed away and to patients. Doctors and caregivers who officials arrested, harassed or imprisoned in the fight for their right to medical cannabis will also be honored.
“We’ll have all the principles who were involved in organizing the Prop. 215 campaign,” Gieringer explained. “We’ll have original doctors that recommended marijuana, original patients, and original stories about how Prop. 215 came to pass.”
The event will take place November 5th, with the doors opening at 9 a.m. All the information is on Cal NORML’s website.
The future of medical as well as recreational cannabis without a doubt looks promising. There are a seemingly countless number of medical studies regarding cannabis that have already taken place. However, the U.S. government continues to stunt the growth of medical/drug research. In fact, it does not recognize it for any medical purposes. This is because it is still a schedule I drug. However, other countries — including Canada, Chile, Uruguay -— have federally recognized its medical value.
“The only thing that there hasn’t been is formal FDA controlled clinical trials for drug approval because the government has not allowed them to take place,” said Gieringer. “But there are hundreds of studies that have found the efficacy of medical marijuana, and frankly the evidence is overwhelming.”
Without a doubt, medical cannabis is moving in the right direction. While bureaucracy continues to stunt research, it’s clear what the people want, and they have shown that they have the power to get it.
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