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Legalizing Marijuana Will Help Disenfranchised Families

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An LGBT cannabis proponent says Californians -- and voters in Nevada, Arizona, and Maine -- need to embrace the future.

When I started in the cannabis business more than a decade ago, my sole purpose was to create a safe space for women to access clean, quality cannabis. For 10 years, I've been drawn into a legalization war that rages on with aggressive conflict between our state and federal governments, between cultivators and law enforcement. But with successive legalization in states across the country, it's clear that legalization in California is no longer an issue of "if" but "when." The LGBTQ community has tremendous power when we work and vote together. Proposition 64 -- which would legalize recreational marijuana -- is our chance to make positive changes that could reverberate nationally.

The 2016 presidential election ensures a high voter turnout, and it's our opportunity as a state, as counties, as compassionate communities, to send a clear message at the ballot box. We want cannabis legalized. Period. Prop. 64 is imperfect; that too is something most people agree on. But do we stand still and create the "perfect" proposition? How much longer do we wait? Or do we move forward and correct course as we go like the pioneers we once were? California once led the charge in progressive lawmaking, especially regarding cannabis. Now we lag behind states like Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.

At the crux of Prop. 64 is access. It removes the barrier that says, "Cannabis is OK for me but not for you." Under Proposition 215, marijuana isn't legal; it allows medicinal use and provides immunity to prosecution. Big difference. Prop. 64 makes marijuana legal. That automatically eliminates the gross waste of resources being poured into combating cannabis use, and not just the ticketing and arrests, but all the way down the chain -- prosecution, detainment, housing, appeals. The agencies dealing with this suffer from a lack of proper equipment and training. Wouldn't those resources be better spent combating real social problems or providing better services? I refer you to the massive police raids on dispensaries and cultivators only this past summer right here in California.

One concern people have expressed is that Prop. 64 kills small business, but has this been true in the wine industry? Craft beer? Micro-distilleries? The coffee industry? There will always be a place for artisanal, small-batch, premium-quality products. At Natural Cannabis Co., we do very little vertical integration and instead work exclusively with small farms and cultivators. That's what our clients want. It varies by community, but speaking for Sonoma County, we have a loyalty and passion for supporting independents and small businesses. Prop. 64 adds a residency requirement through 2019 and has antimonopoly and price-fixing language. Is it perfect? No. But it allows people with prior cannabis convictions to get licenses to operate a legal business, something Prop. 215 lacks. It eliminates the irony of refusing cannabis cultivation licenses to people who have been convicted of cultivating cannabis -- imagine that!

Did you know that there are still people in prison for cannabis in recreational-use states? With Prop. 64, California has a chance to set an important nationwide precedent by addressing that very issue.

Consider this: "Individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure would be eligible for resentencing."

The proposition also says, "Individuals who have completed sentences for crimes that are reduced by the measure could apply to the courts to have their criminal records changed."

Another important issue Prop. 64 addresses is guaranteeing privacy and parental rights. In communities of color and LGBTQ families, parents have more to fear when it comes to losing their children to protective services. Prop. 64 means you will not lose your children for cannabis use. Isn't it time to end the terrible irony of so many lives ruined over a plant that has caused exactly zero overdose deaths? Those ruined lives have disproportionately been in disenfranchised communities.

Part of civilization is compromise, and that's what Prop. 64 is. It's seeking to balance the concerns of both sides; people who love and consume cannabis and nonusers alike. By its very nature, it's not meant to be 100 percent satisfactory to everyone. That's simply not possible. It's still a big step forward, not just for people actively using cannabis now, but for the people who have been victims of this failed drug war and their families as well. In all the squabbling over money and power, the humanity gets forgotten.

Currently, Prop. 215 forces people to disclose their personal and medical information to seek recommendations for what's basically an herbal medicine. They're paying for these visits, renewing their cards every year, and still we can't guarantee these people, many of them vulnerable, are getting safe, clean cannabis. Whether you're using it for medical reasons or recreationally, you deserve safe, clean, quality product. Prop. 64 helps by setting guidelines and regulations meant to protect the consumer. We have four recreational-use states showing us that legalization does not inflate prices, it has not increased vehicular deaths, and it has not increased teen drug use. What it has done is create a tremendous revenue stream, a boost in tourism, and dramatically reduced marijuana arrests.

This is a new era for cannabis. People who would have never considered cannabis a couple of years ago are seeing life-changing results in people close to them. The increase in cannabis use directly correlates to a reduction in opioid deaths. People are finding relief and enjoyment in this humblest of plants, and now is the time to make it legal for everyone who chooses to use it, for whatever they want to use it for. Living in the heart of wine country, it's hard not to look at that industry and our acceptance and celebration of alcohol, a substance with virtually no medical benefit and directly responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 Californians annually.

The time to usher in a new stage of acceptance for cannabis in California is now. Time has proven that minds and laws change. More people than ever approve of legalization. Legalization can happen now or we can stagger along behind Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and other states where recreational marijuana is likely to pass next week, waiting for that "perfect" proposition. Northern California, in particular, is known around the world for cannabis, so why are we so far behind the times? Vote yes on Prop. 64.

DONA FRANK is a passionate proponent of cannabis legalization. She's the founder and owner of Natural Cannabis Co., an experienced businesswoman, honored veteran of the U.S. armed forces, and a proud member of the LGBTQ community. Natural Cannabis Co. operates three Northern California dispensaries: Oakland Organics, Oakland; OrganiCann, Santa Rosa; and MendoCann, Hopland.

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