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The theme behind the Compassionate Use Act still rings true today

It is very important for everyone to cultivate compassion within. Compassion is important for one’s self and those who make up your community. One’s community includes family, friends, but also those with differing views: Your opponents and your enemies. A little compassion goes a long way toward turning an enemy to a frenemy. A frenemy is but one step away from a friend.

Looking through a lens of compassion can be a hefty task, especially when so many people are just plain wrong! Or are they? Each person has their own perspective which is part of what we cherish in our First Amendment. Seeing the world through another’s eyes helps to see eye-to-eye. People often disagree so bitterly on such pressing topics. Compassion is one of our most crucial tools in finding common ground towards understanding each other and implementing solutions that work for all parties.

Even the most supportive cannabis advocates would do well to feel compassion toward those who are afraid of regulating the substance. Opponents of cannabis tend to cite security and protecting children as their primary concerns. As an advocate for cannabis regulations, I hear these concerns loud and clear, and share them. Cannabis regulations are how we mitigate these concerns, which gives me hope that the “divide” is not nearly as big as we have been led to believe.

In 1996, California’s Prop 215 (The Compassionate Use Act) proposed allowing the personal use and cultivation of medical cannabis for those with a doctor’s recommendation. It was designed to help those with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma, and other debilitating diseases find relief.

It passed by 55.6% statewide (MUCH higher in Sonoma County), illustrating that enough people found it in their hearts to give this “alternative” substance a chance (bear in mind cannabis has been used medicinally for 5,000 years per written record).

The initiative to make medical cannabis legal was created on a foundation of compassion for those suffering from HIV and AIDS. Just take Brownie Mary as an example. At the height of the AIDS epidemic, Mary Jane Rathbun was famous for baking hundreds of pot brownies a day to give to AIDS and cancer patients. She distributed them throughout the San Francisco community. While she was arrested a couple times for possession, her compassion helped lead the way for California stepping out first to choose cannabis regulations over prohibition. She was just an ordinary woman who saw a need for relief from pain, and she stepped up–something we could all do in our own way. Her legacy lives on through the Brownie Mary Democratic Club, the first cannabis organization ever to be officially connected to a major political party, the California Democratic Party.

This foundation of compassion for the medical cannabis movement was found elsewhere too–in Santa Cruz, California. After becoming a medical cannabis user and suffering the consequences of its illegal status, Valerie Leveroni founded the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in 1993. WAMM is a not-for-profit medicinal cannabis dispensing collective through which members receive organic medical cannabis at cost. Valerie Leveroni and WAMM were key aspects of medical cannabis legalization in California, and provided a much-needed pain relief substitute for so many people suffering with chronic pain and AIDS. When you look at the history of cannabis in this state, so much of it exists through compassionate efforts to help those in need. This is something we must still continue to support and nurture.

Modernizing regulations, locally and statewide, offers adults access to regulated cannabis. Cannabis is a therapeutic substance. People increasingly, with their doctor’s guidance, are able to substitute cannabis for some prescription drugs with monstrous side-effects. Imagine the power of adults being able to grow or purchase an herb that provides relief in a healthy way.

Regulated cannabis provides relief to millions of people across our state every single day. Cannabis has been federally illegal since 1937, yet prohibition is crumbling one state regulatory effort at a time. The federal government came to their senses and legalized hemp and in all likelihood will soon legalize cannabis. To undo the prohibitionist preference and bring the culture along will take time. Slowly but surely California’s local governments are adopting and improving commercial cannabis regulations versus prohibitionist policies. Adapting to that change, and seeing how we can work together to create safer, quality tested, ecologically grown, and accessible cannabis is the future. There are fears over this plant that need healing. There are needs for this plant that require access. A little compassion by “both sides” will help us address everyone’s needs as best as possible, allowing us to be on the same side of what is history in the making.

Craig Litwin was a top signature gatherer for Prop 215, served as mayor of Sebastopol where he co-authored one of the nation’s first dispensary ordinances. He is the CEO of 421 Group, a California cannabis consultancy with a HQ in Sebastopol, and a co-creator of Resourcery, a Sebastopol permitted and state licensed cannabis oil extractor, tincture and salve maker, and distributor.

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