If there’s any group capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in California, it’s marijuana activists.
By Doug Porter
The polling has never been better. This year 60% of likely California voters are inclined to legalize the consumption of marijuana for recreational use, up from 54% last year.
The political prognosis has never been better. Four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized pot and another eight states are considering giving voter approval to the idea.
So California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act qualifying for the November ballot should be good news, right? Not so fast. We’ve been here before. In 2010 Proposition 19 started out with strong polling and had decent financial backing, as I recollect.
Poll numbers like these are encouraging for proponents, but skeptics can point to the failed Proposition 19 effort in 2010, which came up short with 47% of the vote after polling above 50% for months that year.
What It Is
On Tuesday the Secretary of State’s Office certified the measure, backed by a coalition including former Facebook President Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Although 365,880 signatures is the threshold for qualifying, over 600,000 were submitted.
Here’s the ballot description:
Legalizes marijuana and hemp under state law. Designates state agencies to license and regulate marijuana industry. Imposes state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15% of sales price, and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves. Exempts medical marijuana from some taxation. Establishes packaging, labeling, advertising, and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products. Allows local regulation and taxation of marijuana. Prohibits marketing and advertising marijuana to minors. Authorizes resentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions.
- Adults aged 21+ will be allowed to possess marijuana, and grow small amounts at home for personal use. Sale of marijuana will be legal and highly regulated to protect consumers and kids. [Possession of up to an ounce and cultivation of up to six plants]
- This measure brings California’s marijuana market out into the open – much like the alcohol industry. It will be tracked, controlled, regulated and taxed, and we will no longer be criminalizing responsible adults or incarcerating children.
- Includes toughest-in-the-nation protections for children, our most vulnerable citizens.
- Protects workers, small businesses, law enforcement and local communities.
- According to the independent Legislative Analyst and Governor’s Finance Director, these reforms will save the state and local government up to $100 million annually in reduced taxpayer costs – and raise up to $1 billion in new tax revenues annually.
- Majority of revenues will be allocated to teen drug prevention and treatment, training law enforcement to recognize driving under the influence of drugs, protecting the environment from the harms of illegal marijuana cultivation, and supporting economic development in communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition
- AUMA includes strict anti-monopoly provisions and protects small farmers, so California’s marijuana industry isn’t overrun by mega-corporations.
- The measure builds on the bipartisan legislation signed by Governor Brown to control and regulate California’s medical marijuana industry, and is modeled after national best practices, lessons learned from other states, and the recommendations of the Lieutenant Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy.
For and Against
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act is supported by the California NAACP, the California Medical Association, the California Democratic Party and the Marijuana Policy Project of California and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders are supporters. Complete list of endorsers here.
The Ballotpedia page on the measure includes a quote from OBRag/SDFP editor Frank Gormlie, so I guess we like it…
Frank Gormlie, lawyer and grassroots activist, wrote the following about San Diego’s need to support marijuana legalization in the San Diego Free Press:
So, as the people are on the verge of ending marijuana prohibition in this state, our local law enforcement and County supervisors are weighing down the progress of history, trying to keep their reins on a changing culture that is no longer in their control
Opponents include the California Republican Party, the Teamsters Union (they argue for a different distribution system), California Hospital Association, the Small Growers Association, California Correctional Supervisor’s Association, and various other law enforcement agencies.
From the Los Angeles Times:
More than $3.7 million has been raised so far by the leading campaign for the initiative, Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana While Protecting Children. Leading contributors so far have included former Facebook president Sean Parker, legalization advocacy group Drug Policy Action and a committee funded by the firm Weedmaps, a firm that helps consumers locate pot shops.
Opposition is led by the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, made up of law enforcement and health groups including the California Police Chiefs Assn., the California Hospital Assn. and the California State Sheriffs’ Assn. The groups warn legalization will lead to more drugged-driving and allow dealers of harder drugs to have a role in the new industry.
The coalition has raised about $125,000 so far from groups including the Assn. of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs State PAC and the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn.
Lee Fang at The Intercept dug into the opposition’s likely motivations (They say it’s about the children) which is… wait for it… about the money:
Police receive federal grants from the Justice Department to help fund drug enforcement efforts, including specific funding to focus on marijuana.
Asset forfeiture is another way law enforcement agencies have come to rely on marijuana as a funding source. Police departments, through a process known as asset forfeiture, seize cash and property associated with drug busts, including raids relating to marijuana.
The proceeds from the seizures are often distributed to law enforcement agencies. From 2002 to 2012, California agencies reaped $181.4 million from marijuana-related asset seizures. As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014, pot legalization in Washington state led asset forfeiture proceeds to go up in smoke.
Law enforcement lobbyists in Sacramento, including Lovell, have steered Justice Department grants into marijuana eradication. Last year, Lovell successfully worked to defeat measures to reform asset forfeiture in California.
But… What About the Children?
Colorado has been allowing the recreational use of marijuana for a couple of years now, so it’s useful to take a look at what’s going on there, though it’s probably too soon to make any judgments about long-term health impacts.
Kevin Sabet led the opposition to legalization in Colorado, claiming for every dollar that marijuana legalization would generate for Colorado, there would be ten dollars in ‘social costs.’ That hasn’t happened, though I’m sure we’ll hear some of the same types of claims here in California.
Colorado’s legal marijuana sales grew to more than 40% to nearly $1 billion in 2015, creating $135 in revenue from taxes and fees. That’s nearly double what the state made from alcohol sales, by the way.
There have been some downsides, mostly from emergency room visits caused by consumption of edibles infused with the active ingredients in pot. And I’m sure more will emerge. But the concept of incarceration for things challenging the moral code of the self-righteous has been seriously challenged.
A Colorado Department of Public Safety report looked at the post-legalization effects on such things as public safety and health, drawing from local, state, federal and private data sets.
Among their findings:
- Marijuana-related arrests have decreased by 46 percent between 2012 and 2014, while possession arrests were cut in half and sales arrests have decreased by 24 percent.
- The trend for high school students ever using marijuana has declined from 42.4 percent in 2005 to 36.9 percent in 2013. The percentage of high school students currently using marijuana has decreased from 22.7 percent to 19.7 percent over the same period. Youth use in Colorado remains above the national average.
- Marijuana-related hospitalizations have increased from a rate of 803 per 100,000 pre-commercialization to 2,413 per 100,000 post-commercialization.
- The period of retail commercialization showed a significant increase in emergency department visits, from 739 per 100,000 (2010–2013) to 956 per 100,000 emergency department visits (2014–June 2015).
- The prevalence of marijuana as the impairing substance among DUIs has increased from 12% in 2014 to 15% in 2014, although the total number of marijuana-related DUIDs decreased slightly.
The Internal (Real) Opposition
Anybody who has ever covered issues connected with medical marijuana in California quickly learns about the various factions and infighting going on.
Back in the day when I wrote for the OB Rag exclusively, I quit writing about the subject and banned a bunch of people from the Facebook page because of downright ugly behavior.
“So-and-so is police undercover officer”
“So-and-so is actually an agent for [fill-in-the-bad-guys]”
“So-and-so is stealing money from the movement.”
And so forth…
These are some contentious types, no doubt about it.
There were several groups angling for a legalization measure on the November ballot, but only one made it.
The Trump Argument
Oregon Activist and attorney Leland R. Berger is urging support for the legalization measure in an op-ed at Marijuana Politics, using the ‘it’s the best we’re gonna get argument:’
In the same way as it would be a disaster for America to elect Donald Trump, it would likely set legalizing cannabis back two election cycles if California does not legalize this November. Nationally, we have no other viable choice but to elect Hillary. In California, we have to pass AUMA, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, and, to quote Jack Herer, “marijuana is not going to legalize itself”, so sitting this one out is not a real option.
What is surprising about the opposition to AUMA in the California cannabis community is that, as initiatives go, it’s not that bad. It doesn’t create a per se DUII. Following Oregon’s lead, it significantly reduces criminal penalties. It allows home gardens (with more plants than Oregon’s law does). It does not amend the constitution to create an oligopoly to control cannabis production and distribution or allow only nurseries in business for 30 years to compete for the 3 licenses when there are only 3 nurseries in the state in business for 30 years. Point is, it could be better, but, and again like Hillary, it could be far worse.
Notably, under current law and enforcement, and particularly in the Bay area, Californians have it very, very good. Less than an ounce is a citable offense only and enforcement, in some parts, is lax. However, as with cannabis prohibition throughout the United States, the ACLU has documented that enforcement is skewed to target minorities and young people. Perhaps there’d be less opposition to the AUMA in the California cannabis community if more white people had their lives disrupted by this citable offense.
Weed activist Mickey Martin, who was an adamant supporter of Proposition 19, 2010’s failed attempt at legalization, says he just can’t vote for this measure at ReformCA.org:
It is not easy for me to say this, but I believe I will be voting against cannabis legalization on November 8th. I could never in my life imagine walking into a voting booth, and voting against a cannabis legalization effort; but alas… the world is often a fucked up place where we are forced to make tough decisions. This will be one of the more difficult decisions I have had to make; but if a man does not stand by his convictions and beliefs then he is no man at all. My belief about AUMA is that it is just not worth it…. I believe that the positives do not outweigh the negatives on this one.
I do not think I am alone either.
I think the AUMA effort will fail on Election Day. I think they wrote enough garbage into it that they gave everyone something to hate. I am not a purist by any means. I understand the need for compromise in these situations, but this law literally gives away the farm…. Or more accurately it gives away tens of thousands of farms. It will handcuff how cannabis is produced and distributed in such ways that we would be stupid to vote yes on it and set forth decades of flawed policy and continued enforcement.
…Vote Yes come November, even though I have real doubts about the level of “numb” too many people seem to think they need to cope these days.
I will also vote Yes as a means of protesting the role of the Prison-Industrial Complex as an enforcement mechanism for racism and oppression.
I will also vote Yes because that’s the choice being offered to me. I’d like to see time and effort go into fighting what I consider more important causes. And because I’m getting cranky about the “all or nothing” approach to politics so popular with people who ought to know better.
On This Day: 1936 – Jesus Pallares, founder of the 8,000-member coal miners union, Liga Obrera de Habla Espanola, was deported as an “undesirable alien.” The union operated in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. 1969 – The Jimi Hendrix Experience played their last concert on the last day of the Denver Pop Festival. 1998 – With negotiations on a new labor agreement at a standstill, the National Basketball Association (NBA) announced that a lockout would be imposed at midnight.
Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to “The Starting Line” and get an email every time a new article in this series is posted!
I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas to DougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.