Friday, January 29, 2010

Oakland pot initiative submits signatures for November ballot

The backers of the Oakland-based state initiative to tax and regulate
marijuana submitted its petitions Thursday, but supporters and experts
are saying no one is holding their breath for legalization come

The California Cannabis Initiative -- backed mainly by Oakland medical
marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee, who also helped push a
first-of-its-kind tax on city medical marijuana dispensaries last year
-- received approximately 700,000 signatures, with names from every one
of California's 58 counties, according to a press release.

The initiative needed 433,971 signatures to qualify for November's
statewide ballot.

"This is a historic day," Lee said in the release. "The
people of California now have the opportunity to support a common-sense
solution for a broken budget and dysfunctional drug laws."

Lee is the founder of Oaksterdam University.

Similar to the current regulation of alcohol and tobacco, the initiative
will give local governments the ability to tax and regulate the sale of
small amounts of marijuana to adults age 21 and older.

The initiative also increases the penalty for providing marijuana to a
minor, expressly prohibits the consumption of marijuana in public,
forbids smoking marijuana while minors are present, and bans possession
on school grounds.

Supporters of this initiative, as well as other marijuana legalization
initiatives, are saying California is ready for marijuana as a
controlled substance.

Studies by the state Board of Equalization and the Legislative Analyst's
Office show that the initiative will generate billions of dollars, while
recent polls have shown that a majority of Californians support
marijuana legalization.

Local attorney and long-time medical marijuana activist Greg Allen said
marijuana legalization is an idea whose time has come.

"As I understand it, cannabis is the largest cash crop in the
largest agricultural state in the largest agricultural economy in the
history of the human race," Allen said. "Because most of it's
been black market, it's never really been taxed, and that's a
significant amount of potentially taxable commerce that's never
generated any tax revenue. It just seems to me that certainly being able
to get this commodity economically integrated into our economy would be
highly desirable and probably would raise significant tax money."

But Allen said he has some doubts about this specific initiative.

He said the initiative leaves it up to the Legislature to form a
statewide regulatory system for a commercial marijuana industry, which
could take years. Until that happens, Allen said the initiative really
wouldn't change a whole lot.

It would decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana,
but the initiative doesn't specifically say what the punishments would
be for possessing more.

"If someone is cultivating illegally, what's a felony and what's a
misdemeanor?" Allen asked. "If it's a felony, then it's probably
still worthwhile for the Drug Task Force to be making marijuana busts.
If it's a misdemeanor, they're probably not going to bother. I find that
to be a very important distinction."

He said that local law enforcement doesn't really go after people
possessing amounts less than those the initiative would legalize.

Further, Allen said that until the Legislature acts to put a legal
framework to the initiative to govern the cultivation and sales of
marijuana, there will still be black market grows and an increased
potential for medical cannabis to be diverted to the black market.

Whether or not marijuana advocates agree with the initiative, there is
no denying that it spurs conversation, said Allen St. Pierre, executive
director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

He said pro-marijuana initiatives generally lose support from the point
when they are initially announced, as opposition groups begin
advertising and speaking out against them. But more importantly, they
help generate discussion, he said.

"It will very much centralize this discussion just the way that
medical marijuana did in 1996," St. Pierre said, invoking a phrase
that was commonly used at NORML's conference last year, "So goes
California, so goes the country."

While NORML initially was hesitant to support the initiative because
organizers thought a legalization measure ultimately would not pass in
November, St. Pierre said they recognized an opportunity to establish
support for a future initiative. NORML announced its support for the
initiative in December.

Right now, it is estimated that about 45 or 46 percent of voters will
support the initiative, St. Pierre said.

"One hopes that we can keep these numbers, build on them and we
won't see any loss on these numbers," he said.

Kareem Crayton, an associate professor of law and political science at
the University of Southern California, said many factors will play out
as the election draws near. Crayton is affiliated with the Initiative &
Referendum Institute based in the USC School of Law.

Speaking in general terms, he agreed with St. Allen's view of an
initiative being a means of generating discussion on an issue.

"The process itself, regardless of outcome, can be an educational
tool to the public," Crayton said, adding that discussion can also
attract funding on either side of a debate, which affects the election
and any future initiative on the subject.

Speaking specifically to this year's election and marijuana legalization
initiatives in general, Crayton said there may be some variables that
aren't expected, such as the type of voter who will support the measure
and how many people show up to the polls.

While a mid-term election year often attracts less people, this year's
competitive governor's race may increase numbers, Crayton said.
Furthermore, the state's budget crisis may attract voters for the
initiative who are usually not inclined to vote. But he cautioned that
there are many factors at work which make results hard to predict.

"Usually in an off-year election, voters are older, whiter and more
conservative, and might not traditionally vote for marijuana
legalization," Crayton said. "But they will support solidifying
the budget. ... It could just attract people that are looking for a way

No comments: