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The concept of progressive reform has its core message built right into the word: progress. From the dark ages of America’s decades-long drug war to the first rays of hope that arrived with the success of California’s Prop 215 in 1996, calls for progress and reform — especially concerning drug-related laws and incarceration rates — have remained a consistent rallying cry for cannabis advocates, even to this day.

As the prospect for federal cannabis legalization in the United States remains sluggish and unpredictable, lawmakers and voters in individual states have taken matters into their own hands. Once more leading by example, California seemingly opened the floodgates to a new era of legal cannabis when Prop 64 went into effect in 2018. Establishing a legal, regulated market for adult-use cannabis in one of the world’s largest economies subsequently set in motion a domino effect that saw state after state consider legislation to approve some form of medical and/or recreational use.

One of the lynchpins of Prop 64 was the fact that it essentially eliminated all cannabis-related felonies from the books.

Except for selling weed to a minor, non-violent pot crimes committed in the state no longer carry any risk of incarceration in a state prison. That includes violating the stipulation in Prop 64 that limits all adults to growing a maximum of six cannabis plants for personal use. Notably, the penalty does not change in relation to how many plants over the limit one may be, which means it currently doesn’t matter if you’re caught with 17 plants or 17,000 of them.

But now Southern California district state Assemblyman Thurston “Smitty” Smith (R-Apple Valley) is hoping to change all that with a new bill, introduced last month, that would once more make it a felony to grow in excess of six cannabis plants without a license.

CA Lawmaker Wants To Make Six-Plant Grow Rule Way Harsher

To be certain, Smith’s proposed legislation stands an extremely poor chance of netting the requisite two-thirds support from a state Legislature controlled by a Democratic supermajority. Even if it were to pass, there’s no evidence to suggest that Gov. Gavin Newsom, also a Democrat, would sign the bill. One imagines Smith’s choice to back the failed recall effort to oust Newsom last summer likely won’t earn him any special favors either. But more troubling than this legislation’s long odds of becoming law is its mere existence at all.

Writing for Forbes, Chris Roberts warns that Smith’s bill “could be seen as a starting-off point” that ultimately renews support for policies built on the idea that only police intervention and strict drug laws can hope to thwart California’s still-robust illegal cannabis market. This stands in stark contrast to what many growers and advocacy organizations in the industry have said: namely, that the taxes are too damn high.

What’s the difference between lowering taxes and ushering in new laws that send people back to prison for pot? Money, for one.

Losing that tax revenue — which has, it should be noted, become an appealing new funding source for all manner of state needs — would sting, but when the alternative is putting human beings behind bars for growing too much of something that is otherwise legal to grow, it’s hard to see these options as anything approaching equal in their merits.

Regardless, in a press release announcing his new bill, Smith said its purpose was to combat the large, illegal grows “operating with impunity, knowing that the law allows them to grow with barely a hinderance” that continue to take residence in his rural Southern California district. The issue, of course, is that his proposed legislation would make it a felony for anyone to grow even one plant over the legal limit of six.

But as Chris Roberts astutely points out, there is no acceptable number of plants — be it 10 or 10,000 — that could justify such a law:

“What if,” he writes, “instead of seven plants triggering a felony, it [was] 100? What about 1,000? Surely any reasonable person could agree that acres-large weed grows need a license — and that if they don’t have one, the police should be involved! That’s the dangerous logic that could see California start imprisoning people for weed again.”

This is the truly alarming part about Smith’s new bill: not that it will succeed, but that it represents a growing willingness among, as Robert’s terms it, “certain influential thought leaders” to backslide into a war in which no drugs are punished — only people.