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The History of Marijuana in California

The use of marijuana in California is characterized by several legal, legislative and cultural events. In 1996, California passed the use of medical marijuana through Proposition 215 and further strengthened Legalization through Senate Bill 420 in 2003. During the 2016 election, California passed the legalization of recreational use of marijuana through Proposition 64.  So, where did all this start? Obviously, there is a reason behind it. Initially, America used a marijuana species known as hemp to make sails, ropes and clothing before Mexicans introduced the hemp cigarette in America in the 20th century. Hemp was first used in industries in the 17th century. However, the federal government passed laws to control its use in other ways than the conventional industrial use.

 

In 1907, the federal government passed the Poison Act with further amendments conducted in 1913. In this act, the possession of any hemp extracts such as tinctures and other compounds of the herb was a crime. However, there is no evidence showing the practical use of the law. In 1915, there was yet another amendment that forbade the possession and the sale of extracts, leaves, flowering tops and other compounds of the Cannabis plant. Exceptions were made for medical use. These prescriptions were unanimously received through the California State Board of Pharmacy.

 

Later on, stricter laws were established in 1920s to control the use of marijuana. In 1925, possession of marijuana was also considered the same as distribution and was punishable under the law where culprits were sentenced up to 6 years in jail. Black market trade was also illegal and was punishable with a fine of between $100 -$400 or serving in jail for a period of 50-180 days. There were several other amendments that were made in quick succession aiming to control the use of opium and harsher punishments, of up to 10 years put in force.  After all that, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 was ratified and the cultivation of marijuana, became a separate crime. Anyone caught selling marijuana would be sentenced for a period between 5-15 years with a compulsory 3 years prior to eligibility for parole. Anyone committing this offense for the third time was imprisoned for life.

 

An effort to decriminalize marijuana in 1972 was made through Proposition 19. However, it was defeated through a 66.5% majority in California. After that, the efforts of decriminalization sank deeper. Senate Bill 95 was passed in 1975 in the Moscone Act, where the possession of an ounce of cannabis was a crime attracting a fine of $100. Much more punishment came with the possession of larger quantities than an ounce of marijuana, having it on school grounds or for growing it. Marijuana reforms underwent many challenges with most of the restrictions and regulation laws passed by the federal government. President Ronald Reagan declared the war on drugs in 1980s and laws became even tougher. However, not much result was evident from such developments, except throwing people in jail.

 

In the second half of the 1990s, significant developments were made in California and in 1996, the state legalized medical marijuana through proposition 215. The proposition added some modifications to the California Health and Safety Code allowing individuals with anorexia, cancer, glaucoma, migraines, AIDS and other chronic complications to legally grow and use weed for medical reasons but with a doctor’s recommendation. Doctors were also protected under this law and it also defined that the state and federal governments would work together on the issue of having safe distribution of medical marijuana to all patients.

 

About 4 years later, a 61% majority voted for Proposition 36, called the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000.  In this Act, first and second-time offenders would be sent to drug rehabilitation centers rather than being tried and incarcerated. Proposition 215 went through a lot of criticism based mainly on how it was worded. However, the California Supreme Court made clarifications through the rulings given and through the passage of other laws largely through Senate Bill 420 of 2003 commonly known as the Medical Marijuana Program Act.  It helped a lot in differentiating patients seeking treatment. The charges found for possession of marijuana were reduced by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2010 by signing into law the California State Senate Bill 1449 that was effected in 2011. The possession of an ounce of marijuana now became an infraction comparable to a violation on traffic rules and this attracted a fine of $100 without having to appear in court.

 

The Medical Marijuana Program Act permits the establishment of patient collectives or non-profit groups to offer the drugs to the ailing patients. The California Supreme Court in a case involving the People versus Kelly ruled that Senate Bill 420 did not state the quantity to be possessed by a patient leading to the lifting of any limits for medical cannabis in California. The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act was introduced in 2009 by Tom Ammiano that sought to remove any penalties under the California state law for the possession, use and cultivation of cannabis for individuals aged 21 years and above. The Assembly Public Safety Committee in California passed the bill in 2010, going down in records as the first time in the history of the United States that a bill decriminalizing cannabis passed a legislative council. Even though legalization did not get to the Assembly floor, Ammiano was persuaded to reintroduce the motion again based on the success attained with Proposition 19.

 

Proposition 19 was rejected by California voters in 2010 with a 53.5% majority. Had it passed, this would have seen the growing and possession of marijuana for recreational use legal for adults aged 21 years and above.  However, this was achieved later in 2016 through Proposition 64 that made cannabis legal for recreational use in California. Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act permits the growing and possession of marijuana for recreational use by people of 21 years of age and over. Therefore, marijuana in California is now legal for both medical and recreational purposes.

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