In November, California voters will consider Proposition 64, a ballot initiative calling for the legalization of commercial marijuana sales in the state. Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, is among its most outspoken proponents. In August, Lyman discussed the details of the initiative live on Facebook with Reason TV’s Zach Weissmueller. For a video version of the interview, visit reason.com.
Q: We’ve seen commercial legalization in several states now. What does it mean for the country if California jumps on that bandwagon?
A: This initiative goes further than any other initiative anywhere in the world. This is about rectifying decades of a failed war on drugs.
Q: Isn’t medical marijuana already legal here?
A: Marijuana is only legal for white people in California, practically. When you look at how the law is being applied, if you are white and you are 21 or over, you can pretty much use marijuana without any sort of criminal justice involvement. That is not true for African Americans in California, or even for Latinos. African Americans are four times more likely to get stopped for marijuana. Latinos are two times more likely. Despite the fact that white people use and sell marijuana at slightly higher rates.
Q: If California were to pass this initiative, what would you expect in terms of the prison population?
A: My guesstimate is it’s going to be under 10,000 people who are going to be eligible for having their sentence reduced. But this is also applicable retroactively, so anybody who has a marijuana offense going back five, 10, 50 years will be eligible to have their record cleared. I’m guessing we’re going to be at about half a million, at least, statewide.
Q: The approach is to treat the marijuana industry like the wine or beer industry, where you have a tiered system. You can get a license to be a distributor, or a grower, or a retail seller, but it’s impossible to hold all those licenses. So there’s not what’s called vertical integration.
A: Not under Prop 64! We put a special license type…so for small shops, you can get a “micro license” [that is] fully vertically integrated [if you're at] 10,000 square feet or less.
Q: What’s the rationale for the tiered licensing once they get bigger?
A: The licensing for the most part replicated what the governor and the legislature passed for medical marijuana last year.
Q: What about the argument that legalizing something sends the message that it’s OK, and therefore more children are going to experiment with marijuana before they should?
A: I don’t think it has any merit. I’m the mother of a 12-year-old, and no, she cannot touch my alcohol, and no, she cannot touch my marijuana. So I think it’s pretty easy for parents to be clear that something may be legal, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe for children, or even acceptable for children.
Q: Do you think marijuana legalization is going to sweep the nation?
A: I do see this as a tipping point, and I do think federal marijuana prohibition will be ended. I see that on a five- to 10-year track. But that is really just the first step. My organization will be advancing what we call the Portugal model.…You cannot get arrested for using drugs in the country of Portugal. And what have they seen? They implemented this in 2001, and in those years since then, of course incarceration and arrests have gone down. But drug treatment has gone up, and youth use has gone down, and overdoses have gone way down.