Drug War

California Pot Legalization Initiatives in Disarray


The Los Angeles Times over the weekend reported on the chaotic state of attempts to get a fresh marijuana legalization initiative on California's ballot this year:

Just weeks before the deadline for state ballot initiatives, the effort to put a marijuana legalization measure before voters in the general election is in disarray….

After Proposition 19 received 46% of the vote in 2010, proponents took heart at the near-miss. They held meetings in Berkeley and Los Angeles and vowed to put a well-funded measure to fully legalize marijuana on the 2012 ballot…

Instead, five different camps filed paperwork in Sacramento for five separate initiatives. One has given up already and the other four are teetering, vying for last-minute funding from a handful of potential donors.

Backers need more than $2 million to hire professional petitioners to get the 700,000-plus signatures they say they need by April 20 to qualify for the ballot. But they are getting little financial support from medical marijuana dispensaries that have profited from laws that pot activists brought forth in earlier years….

Of the four possible initiatives, the one apparently with the most vocal support within the movement is the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act, written by defense attorneys who specialize in marijuana cases. The measure would repeal state criminal statutes on marijuana possession, except those for driving while impaired or selling to minors. The state Department of Health would have 180 days to enact regulations before commercial sales became legal.

Libertarian activists came up with Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, which would have the department of Alcoholic Beverage Control oversee marijuana sales, same as beer and wine. Backers commissioned a poll they say found that 62% of Californians would support the measure. But time is against them. They filed early, so their deadline for signatures is March 20. So far, they have collected only about 50,000.

A third proposal comes from the Reefer Raiders, friends and disciples of the late pot guru and author Jack Herer, who have filed pot initiatives in one form or another since 1980. Led by a wild-bearded Bert "Buddy" Duzy, the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative would legalize "cannabis hemp" for industrial, medicinal, nutritional and "euphoric" use.

The fourth idea comes from more staid groups: Americans for Safe Access, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and the state chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML). They are pushing the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, which would give more legitimacy to medical marijuana by adding state oversight and controls that the Legislature has been unable to enact.

At a recent forum in Marin County, Dale Gieringer, the state director for NORML, elicited consternation from the audience when he said that voters were more likely to go for regulating medical cannabis than allowing commercial sale — a key rift within the movement.

Proponents of all the initiatives have lamented that they had to compete with one another. "We're all chasing the same dollars," said Steve Collett, a Libertarian activist and Venice CPA who's behind the marijuana-like-wine measure.

Collett said that given the federal crackdown on dispensaries that began five months ago, he hoped the marijuana industry would pour money into the ballot initiatives, particularly his, which includes a provision to prohibit local and state authorities from aiding the Drug Enforcement Administration on pot cases. But the industry hasn't come through in any notable way.

"This is very difficult to understand," said Steve Kubby, a longtime activist who worked on the medical marijuana Proposition 215 in 1996 and is the main proponent of Regulate Marijuana Like Wine. "Here's an industry that was able to come up with $100 million in taxes last year but is unable to come up with money to ensure its own future in the face of a federal government trying to exterminate them."

The state Board of Equalization estimates it annually collects between $57 million and $105 million in sales tax from dispensaries….

Debby Goldsberry, a longtime activist and co-chair of the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act, said some dispensary owners don't put much hope in being saved by ballot initiatives. They view the current crackdown as a backlash to the near-success of Proposition 19.

Details on the heating-up war on medical marijuana in California 

In California, the DEA has raided at least 36 dispensaries and growers, confiscating marijuana, cash and computers. The state's four U.S. attorneys have sent at least 150 letters to landlords of dispensaries, ordering them to evict their tenants or face seizure of their property and prosecution. They've also threatened cities and counties that have tried to set up a permit system for dispensaries and growers.

On the financial front, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has pressured banks to close accounts linked to marijuana. And the IRS has audited dozens of dispensaries using an obscure provision of the federal tax code that prohibits drug traffickers from making any deductions.

Harborside was ordered to pay $2.5 million in back taxes. "All our funds that we could have used for political purposes are tied up in litigation," [Steve] DeAngelo [executive director of the state's largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland] said.

The wealthy donors who helped fund Proposition 19, including billionaire George Soros and retired insurance executive Peter Lewis, are more likely to fund measures in Colorado and Washington state that have already qualified for the ballot. Those are cheaper states to win, requiring far less media buys.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance and an advisor to Soros, said measures in those states are "tightly drafted initiatives and the polling is looking good."

My February 2011 feature on the rise and fall of the last California pot legalization initiative, Proposition 19.

NEXT: Charles Murray on Forcing Classes to Mix

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  1. Backers need more than $2 million to hire professional petitioners to get the 700,000-plus signatures they say they need by April 20 to qualify for the ballot.

    April 20, eh?

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  2. Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act,

    Fucking Dopers!

  3. they are getting little financial support from medical marijuana dispensaries that have profited from laws that pot activists brought forth in earlier years

    Well no shit…

    1. Bootleggers, meet Baptists. Baptists, Bootleggers. I’m sure you two have a lot in common.

      1. Can I get a Amen?

  4. Biggest obstacle to legalization in California is the reliance of Californians.

  5. Goddammit. The scumbag lawyers are more principled than the MMJ providers? Fucking California.

  6. Backers need more than $2 million to hire professional petitioners to get the 700,000-plus signatures they say they need by April 20 to qualify for the ballot. But they are getting little financial support from medical marijuana dispensaries that have profited from laws that pot activists brought forth in earlier years….

    Who could have seen this coming?

  7. So, the stoners are disorganized? Hmm. Never could have predicted that.

    1. We’ve got ballot initiatives certified for Election Day 2012 in Colorado and Washington.

      The news of the death of Regulate Marijuana Like Wine have been greatly exaggerated.

      1. My ranch is surrounded by vineyards. Would much prefer fields of marijuana. Does the initiative allow “tasting rooms”?

    2. does pot make people disorganized and unmotivated, or do disorganized and unmotivated people gravitate to pot?

      gosh, wouldn’t it be great if it were possible to do enough research to get a concrete answer to that?

  8. Why does it have to be fresh? I told you if they ever legalized it, they would want to regulate it and tax it right away.

    1. It is already taxable, just like herion, coke, meth, etc. It is just that no one is brave enough to collect the tax.

  9. Look for the NorCal growers to start a “fuck this” campaign if this makes it to the ballot:

    1. Monsanto will take it all, dude!
    2. They will genetically modify my pot and make me smoke fish assholes, dude!
    3. You will lose your right to use Medical, dude!
    4. blah, blah, blah.

    1. make me smoke fish assholes

      *jots down addition to grocery list*

      1. delicious on crackers with cream cheese!

  10. See, this is why I never believe any of the conspiracy theories about liberals (and I am one). I mean, we’re entirely too incompetent and territorial to maintain any organization long enough to enact a conspiracy!

  11. Oh California…

  12. I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!

  13. I am really liking the “Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act”. Concise and pretty iron clad. Too bad it won’t make it to the ballot.

  14. God I hate how dumb Californians have gotten in the past few decades…

    Its not enough that they were self serving greedy c*nts, now the education system is so hosed that idiots are sprouting up like mushrooms and totally bogus attack adds win elections.

  15. In the US alone, enforcement of cannabis prohibition costs taxpayers around $10 billion each year. If it was taxed and controlled like

    alcohol, cannabis sales could generate an estimated $6.2 billion in yearly tax revenue. Cannabis has also been shown to ease symptoms of

    people with HIV/AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis and many other medical issues. It has been successfully used to TREAT nausea, appetite

    issues, glaucoma, muscle spasms, and many other types of pain. In 2010, nearly 45,000 Americans were serving time in state and federal

    prisons for nonviolent cannabis possession. In that same year, over 700,000 Americans were arrested for the same crime. The estimated

    total cost to the taxpayers is $9,000,000,000

  16. What should be obvious is all these half way efforts of regulate and such are not desired! What California wants is simple legalization and we go from there. As long as there are strings attached the common person is simply “tuning out” and I don’t blame them. So much arguing over who will make money and gain control along with the DEA and such redefining the traditional business model has us not caring.
    In my opinion Libertarians have messed it up good. Be it in the US Congress or in the store fronts. We simply tried to build a complex machine when all we really need is simple legalization. Let all the politicians panic once we simply legalize ( not decriminalize )

    Are we ready for 2018? That seems to be the next hopeful year but with weed a simple fine now can we get people off their butts?

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