SACRAMENTO – With Colorado and Washington state moving ahead with legal recreational use of marijuana, will California – the first state to establish a medical marijuana system – soon be joining the party?
Several marijuana activists are seeking to ride on the momentum of those states, California’s supportive poll numbers and the lower advertising costs of a non-presidential election year by asking voters in November to approve broader legal use of the drug.
Four initiatives have been put forward so far, all at different administrative stages: Proponents for one are gathering signatures to qualify for the ballot; another measure is waiting to be cleared for signature-gathering; a third plan was just received by the Secretary of State’s office; and organizers for a fourth proposal have yet to decide whether they will move forward.
But the proposed ballot measures offer widely varying regulatory schemes, with little consensus among advocates on the best approach. Meanwhile, national groups and some state activists aren’t convinced that 2014 is their best opportunity.
“It’s time to hold back and see what happens in Colorado and Washington,” said Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. “We don’t yet understand how the economics and taxation of (recreational) marijuana will work.”
The Drug Policy Alliance, which filed what activists view as the most restrictive approach, said in a statement that it will decide “in a short number of weeks” whether to continue with a California ballot campaign this year.
“We believe the California electorate is clearly ready to end prohibition now and control marijuana in a more effective way,” said Stephen Gutwillig, a Los Angeles-based deputy director for the group.
Recent public polling here has given advocates reason to be optimistic. A Field Poll released in December showed the first clear majority of state voters, 55 percent, in support of legalization. When read a summary of one of the initiatives, 56 percent of respondents said they would support it.
That proposal, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, was originally drafted by now-deceased activist Jack Herer. It would fully legalize cannabis and hemp use for those over 21 years old. As many as 99 plants could be grown for personal use, and those charged with or convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses would have their cases reviewed and potentially their records cleared.
Organizers are relying solely on volunteers, though, and are well short of their goal of 750,000 signatures. Initiative coordinator Buddy Duzy says they have collected� 150,000 to� 200,000 signatures and will need to raise money to hire paid signature-gatherers in order to gather enough by their late-February deadline.
Still, he said the group’s proposal is best aligned to what California voters will support. Duzy contrasted his group’s plan, which would direct the Legislature to establish marijuana regulations and penalties that are no more stringent than those for beer and alcohol, against plans for tougher rules. He said 2010’s Proposition 19 took such an approach and failed, 53 percent to 47 percent.
“We’ve tried that already,” he said. “Californians want something more liberal.”
Dave Hodges, a San Jose dispensary operator and proponent of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act, said his group is attempting to address some of the issues that have arisen with the current medical marijuana system, as well as expand legal use. Hodges and others crowd-sourced a draft of their initiative, which would create a cannabis oversight commission.
He said 2013’s state Supreme Court decision upholding a Riverside dispensary ban created more urgency for policy changes.
“The implementation of 2016 also is a lot more up in the air than 2014,” Hodges said, noting that there will be a new president and potentially new federal views on how aggressively to enforce national drug laws.
Bay Area activist Ed Rosenthal, who drafted the latest proposal to be filed, says the younger-trending demographics of a presidential election year would make 2016 more favorable for a ballot measure. But he decided to submit a proposal due to concerns with provisions in the Drug Policy Alliance’s version, which Rosenthal said sets too high a tax, and with versions that limit how many plants are grown without regard to the plants’ size.
Rosenthal faulted the fledgling systems in Colorado and Washington for setting high tax rates, which he believes will spur black-market sales. He wants make sure the regulatory scheme enacted here doesn’t repeat those flaws.
“California always likes to pride itself on being first, so there’s truly embarrassment about” other states expanding legal use, Rosenthal said.
The real test for any of the proposals will be raising enough money to get their campaigns off the ground, said Mark Kleiman, a UCLA professor who specializes in drug policy issues. They could have difficulty getting assistance from national groups that may view 2016 as a safer bet for their next expensive battle, he added.
“I think it will be hard for local advocates to persuade them,” Kleiman said. “They have the momentum of two states behind them and don’t want to lose it.”
WHAT’S IN THE MARIJUANA INITIATIVES?
1. California Cannabis Hemp Initiative – currently collecting signatures
This proposal is a perennial submission that would completely decriminalize cannabis and hemp use. Marijuana would be regulated like alcohol or tobacco, and as many as 99 plants could be grown for personal use. It also calls for reviewing the cases of those charged with or convicted of non-violent marijuana offenses.
2. Marijuana, Control Legalization & Revenue Act – waiting to collect signatures on revised version
Organizers say this version was drafted by allowing dozens of activists to directly edit the proposal before sending it to an attorney who specializes in initiatives. It would set up an independent commission to regulate marijuana use, as well as seek to fix some of the issues that have arisen with the current medical marijuana system.
3. Control, Regulate, and Tax Marijuana Act – unclear whether organizers will gather signatures
Submitted by the Drug Policy Alliance, this proposal sets up legal recreational use of marijuana. Those 21 and older could purchase and possess less than one ounce and could grow up to four plants for personal use. The group says it will decide in the coming weeks whether to launch a campaign.
4. Cannabis Policy Reform Act – headed to the Secretary of State’s office
Bay Area activist Ed Rosenthal says he mailed his proposal to Sacramento in late December. His version would allow growers to have as many plants as they can grow with a maximum wattage of lights indoors or square footage outdoors, instead of capping the number of allowed plants. Those over 21 could possess up to three ounces.
Source: California Secretary of State, Ed Rosenthal.
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