Pubdate: Wed, 7 Oct 2009
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2009 The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Timm Herdt
Note: Timm Herdt is chief of The Star state bureau.
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


Forget Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner, Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom. It
says here that the most interesting political issue in California next
June might not be the Republican and Democratic nominations for
governor, but possibly a ballot proposition with the following title:
"Changes California Law to Legalize Marijuana and Allow It to Be
Regulated and Taxed."

Actually, there are three very similar initiatives now cleared for
signature-gathering, but this specific one is sponsored by Richard Lee
of Oaksterdam University, one of the most devoted marijuana reformers
in the state.

"Oaksterdam" is a section of Oakland that aspires to be like the Dutch
city of Amsterdam, where marijuana is legal. The neighborhood features
a cluster of medical marijuana facilities and the university it houses
boasts that it provides "quality training for the cannabis industry."

Some may snicker at this Cheech & Chong-like narrative, but these are
people with a track record of advancing the cause of eliminating
marijuana laws.

In 2004, the people of Oaksterdam helped to pass Oakland's Measure Z,
which declares prosecution of adult use of marijuana to be that city's
"lowest law enforcement priority."

With a little help from such national groups as the Drug Policy
Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, it's entirely possible that
this ballot initiative could succeed in collecting the requisite
433,971 valid voter signatures by Feb. 18 and thus make it onto the
June ballot.

If it does, well, voters have already shown their willingness to
support a partial truce in the war on drugs. In 2000, despite strong
law enforcement opposition, they overwhelmingly approved Proposition
36, requiring that certain drug offenders receive treatment instead of
jail time. And in 1996, Proposition 215, which legalized the medical
use of marijuana, passed by 11 percentage points.

California voters have shown themselves to be well out ahead of
elected officials in their willingness to rethink marijuana policy.

Even some prominent politicians, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger,
have recently shown some movement on the issue, saying publicly that
the time has arrived to at least study the legalization of pot.

But the skittishness of politicians on this subject is still palpable.
When the Legislature last month was discussing sentencing reform, Sen.
Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, spoke of just how fearful lawmakers are of
voting for anything someone might label as "soft on crime."

Leno noted that in California it is a misdemeanor for an adult to
possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and that the penalty for that
crime cannot exceed a fine of $100.

As Leno told fellow senators, that is the very definition of an
infraction. Every year, he said, judges ask the Legislature to change
possession of a small amount of marijuana to an infraction because it
is folly for them to conduct misdemeanor trials on a charge for which
the maximum penalty is a $100 fine.

To date, lawmakers haven't been moved by such logic. Perhaps in June,
voters will get the chance to leap well beyond that small step.

The proposed initiative includes such common-sense provisions as a ban
on marijuana use on school grounds and other public places and a
prohibition on using it in the presence of minors. It limits the
permissible amount one could legally possess to one ounce and
restricts the size of a private garden to 25 square feet.

It would legalize possession statewide, but declares that the buying
and selling of marijuana would be allowed only in those cities that
choose to permit, regulate and tax such activities.

Most proposed initiatives, of course, never make it to the ballot. It
takes a great deal of money to collect signatures, and this measure
could easily fail without ever being put to voters.

But if it were to qualify, what an interesting political story it
would be. Would the law enforcement establishment fight it? What about
the health professions? And how would the beer, wine and liquor
industries respond to the prospect of potential legal competition?
Presumably, they would fight it, but how would they try to camouflage
their involvement in an attempt to avoid a public debate about the
relative social evils of alcohol vs. marijuana?

And what about those poor candidates for governor? Not only would they
be forced to talk about an issue they'd just as soon avoid, but they'd
also have to compete for media attention with an issue that could
dominate campaign coverage.

It's still too early to say for certain that this will be the major
political issue in the 2010 California primary, but as Timothy Leary
might have advised, tune in.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake