California legalization: Proposition 215 sparked a new era for cannabis, and since California’s landmark legislation, 22 more states to adopt similar laws. Pictured: Petition signature gatherer Peter Keyes, right, discusses a petition to legalize marijuana in Sacramento, Calif on April 23, 2016. (Rich Pedroncelli, The Associated Press)

California legalization: Prop. 215 author fights Prop. 64, here’s why

‘Prop. 64 is a misrepresentation of what marijuana is primarily for’: Dennis Peron authored Prop. 215 to legalize medical marijuana nearly 20 years ago in California, now he is fighting legalizing recreational marijuana

For 20 years, Proposition 215 has sustained medical marijuana patients within California. That legislation, although not viable for change could be challenged, according to Dennis Peron, the original Proposition 215 California legalization pioneer.

This week, Peron is in Humboldt County advocating against Proposition 64, the measure to legalize recreational cannabis. He believes the proposition is the government’s way of extorting people and turning the marijuana industry into a profit-based culture for big business instead what he called “the honesty system,” in which people used marijuana as a means of medicine and relief.

“I proposed 215 to help sick and dying people at a time when cancer and AIDS patients were being criminalized for their medications,” Peron said.

He said people in California are confused about the implications of Proposition 64, which calls for the regulation and taxation on cultivation through industry licensing and standardization of cannabis products. This law would also legalize marijuana under state law but limit consumption for adults age 21 and older.

That is something Peron calls a step in the wrong direction and said the law would allow the government to decide how, when and why people could partake through their regulations.

“People don’t realize that money is a form of tyranny. You pay them and you won’t get busted, that’s how they control people and this will force an even greater underground market to form,” Peron said.

Humboldt, according to Peron, would serve a large chunk of the underground market and Proposition 64 would solidify marijuana as a recreational drug instead of medical. The recreational categorization is something that Peron has fought to change since Proposition 215’s inception and over the past two decades.

“They made up recreational to demonize and trivialize the people who use marijuana. People who use cannabis for medicinal uses aren’t getting high, they’re getting normal from the treatment,” Peron said, “Prop. 64 is a misrepresentation of what marijuana is primarily for, and this kind of legislation will hurt a lot of people, especially small growers and businesses who are trying to provide to their clients but can’t afford to because of the excess regulations and taxation on their products.”

Prior to Proposition 215, possession or cultivation marijuana for medical treatment was prohibited by the state and considered a criminal offense. Under the proposed Proposition 64, Peron said local farmers and cultivators in this region would be marginalized in the process of a large bureaucracy forming mediocre marijuana production from big business marijuana corporations.

“I want the voters to be aware of the situation at hand,” Peron said. “Prop. 64 is not legalization. If it were legalizing that would imply that marijuana is illegal and it’s not. This law would mean the displacement of cannabis farms in Humboldt. It essentially empowers profit instead of people.”

In the mid-1990s, Peron co-authored and heavily promoted Prop. 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. It was approved by voters and enabled marijuana to be a recommended medication by doctors to their patients and also permitted cannabis to be grown and sold in California.

Proposition 215 sparked a new era for cannabis, and since California’s landmark legislation, 22 more states to adopt similar laws.

“I did Prop. 215 because my lover had AIDS,” Peron said. “He ultimately died, but then I did Prop. 215 for all the people who couldn’t get treatment. We had people going to jail who had AIDS. People were intimidating cancer patients. I wanted them to be able to defend themselves, but it turns out I wrote 215 for a sick nation that was being swallowed up by prohibition, a nation that created fear toward anyone who would dare to talk about marijuana.”

Now at 70 years old, Peron said the “honor system” of selling and cultivating medical marijuana within the state was better than a heavily regulated market.

“Money. It’s always money. It’s so cynical,” he said. “They say they want to help us but they actually want to hurt us. For some reason, they feel like we have to pay taxes because we use marijuana, but if they increase the costs, they limit access to medication.”

Additionally, Peron said our government hasn’t helped in their perpetuation of marijuana as a “party drug” and went on to say Proposition 64 guarantees big business and big grows.

According to CaliforniaChoices.org, proponents of Prop. 64 believe that this measure would create a safe legal system for adult use of marijuana and that it will reduce law enforcement costs and increase tax revenue, benefiting California by more than $11 million in the next decade.

Peron argues Proposition 64 was supported by law enforcement, lawyers and judges because it would make it easier to prosecute and “bust” people.

“In 1996, it was like a dark room had been left for so long without any light. I let a little light in. A light of compassion, hope and empowerment. We empowered the patients and the voters and the people that don’t believe marijuana is a crime,” Peron said. “But Prop. 64 will destroy that power that we’ve had for the last 20 years.”

Natalya Estrada can be reached at 707-441-0510.

This story was first published on Times-Standard.com