Dale Gieringer: 'I Do Not Expect Legalization to Be on the Ballot in 2012 in California'

Dale Gieringer, the California coordinator of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was involved in the campaign for Proposition 19, the state's landmark but losing 2010 legalization initiative.


Q: Put Prop. 19 in perspective for us.

A: Prop. 19 was a little bit ahead of the times. It did impressively well—46 percent of the vote in a strongly Republican, off-year election. And it opened new ground in the whole drug debate, because for the first time we had a real attempt to legalize marijuana in a manner somewhat similar to alcohol. 

[The initiative] had a lot of problems with it, [and] that opened it up to attack by the public. Not just by our side, but by the crucial middle 20 percent of Californians who you need to convince that you've got a workable solution. One of the big problems with Prop. 19 was that it established a very decentralized regime where it would be up to each city and county to decide whether marijuana was legal there or not; there wouldn't be a uniform, statewide system. We don't particularly like that in California. We regulate alcohol on a statewide basis. And the state constitution is written from a very state-centric standpoint. So that brought a lot of questions.

The other big issue was working and driving under the influence. There was an unfortunate clause in Prop. 19 which I supported—and a lot of us would support—but which didn't have to be in the initiative. It said that workers should have the right to use marijuana so long as they weren't under the influence. But that raised a red flag and brought in the Chamber of Commerce and heavy hitters in the industry to oppose it as well. That was a real doubt in the public's mind, so we shouldn't have raised that red flag. 

We still have a low 50 percent majority in concept, but in order to present something that will really get a majority vote, we have to get the voters a plan that they can have confidence in. And if they think the state and federal governments are going to not support this law and work to defeat it—and that is in fact the situation—they're not going to have confidence in the outcome. If we could get the federal government to just say "hey, we'll make this work," I think there would be no problem and I think that the people would go along instantly.

Californians are actually comfortable with the medical marijuana regime that we have at the moment. But if you change it to adult-use sales, that means anybody can come from out of state, from New York they can fly in, buy their pot, and [use] it. You're telling me that the federal government is not going to try to do something about this? You bet they are.

We've still got a ways to go and we really have to work, I think, on federal law as well. We have to get rid of this whole federal noose that prevents any local experimentation at all. 

Q: What's going to happen in 2012?

A: I do not expect legalization to be on the ballot in 2012 in California. We are investigating the possibility of having a medical marijuana reform initiative on the ballot because there are lots of problems with California's medical marijuana law—or lack thereof. It's disputed in California whether dispensaries are even legal entities, depending on where you are in the state. We have this enormous edibles industry, we've had all sorts of strides in developing new kinds of cannabis edibles and extracts. None of it is really legal under the law. The delivery services should be legally recognized and written into the law.