Pubdate: Thu, 7 Oct 2010
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Copyright: 2010 North Coast Journal
Author: John Geluardi
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


Critics of Prop. 19 Range From Skeptical to Rabid -- and Some of Them 
Come From Inside the Movement

In 1911, after years of scandal and high-profile corruption trials, 
California voters overwhelmingly approved one of the most rigorous 
ballot initiative laws in the country. The idea was to allow voters 
to bypass state lawmakers when they were too timid, cowed, or corrupt 
to act on the voters' behalf. Almost a century later, the process is 
still relatively simple and accessible. Any group or individual can 
write an initiative and submit it with a $200 fee to the state 
attorney general's office. After the initiative's fiscal cost was 
analyzed, the signature gathering began. If the authors didn't have 
access to a large group of well-organized volunteers, signature 
gatherers could be easily hired at a price. For about $1 million, a 
professional company would send paid staffers to shopping malls, 
commercial districts, and public transportation hubs to collect 
roughly 440,000 signatures of registered voters required to qualify 
the initiative for the California bal! lot. And if the initiative won 
50 percent of the vote on Election Day, it became law.

That form of direct democracy has given California voters a powerful 
tool to shape their state and influence others. For example, 
Californians ignited a nationwide movement toward property tax relief 
with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978. Citizens have bypassed 
the state legislature to make laws on tobacco tax, term limits, 
casinos, wildlife protection, gay marriage and, of course, medical marijuana.

Oaksterdam University founder and dispensary owner Richard Lee took 
the lead on legalization in 2009. He coauthored the legislation and 
put up more than $800,000 of his own money to collect the qualifying 
signatures. Lee's initiative was aimed at swing voters -- those who 
supported medical cannabis, for example, but might not want a 
dispensary in their neighborhood. If approved in November, the 
Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 -- Proposition 19 -- 
would allow anyone 21 or older to possess or transport up to an ounce 
of cannabis. It would allow the taxation of the cultivation and 
retail sales of cannabis. Any store that so chose could sell up to an 
ounce, and it would be legal to cultivate as much cannabis as you 
could grow in a 25-foot-square area.

The initiative would create new laws regarding marijuana use. It 
would be illegal to smoke marijuana in public or in the presence of a 
minor. Cities and counties could ban the sale of cannabis, though not 
its possession. And existing prohibitions against the operation of 
vehicles, boats, and aircraft while under the influence of marijuana 
would remain in place. The new law would not replace Proposition 215. 
Patients could still possess or cultivate marijuana according to 
local limits. In Oakland, for example, a patient could grow 72 plants 
indoors, but non-patients would be restricted to what they could fit 
in a five-by-five area, or roughly 24 plants.

With the public's growing acceptance of cannabis, Lee decided 2010 
was as good an election year as any when he decided to back the first 
state legalization effort in California since the 1970s.

"We see a lot of things making it right for this time," Lee said. 
"The budget crisis here in California, the violence in Mexico, the 
economy continuing to decline, the polls -- all suggest that this may 
be the time to do it." He may be right. Masterson & Wright, the 
company that Lee hired to collect signatures, racked up more than 
700,000 -- 39 percent more than the required minimum. Proponents set 
a goal of raising $10 million for the campaign, about five times more 
than opponents were expecting to spend.

In another sign that the cannabis industry was taking a corporate 
mentality, Lee hired campaign consultant Chris Lehane as a 
strategist. Lehane had worked for mainstream Democrats like Bill 
Clinton, John Kerry, and Gray Davis. But prominent dispensary owners, 
cannabis attorneys and nonprofit advocacy groups were reluctant to 
endorse the initiative. They criticized the way it was written, and 
some pressured Lee to hold off until 2012, when more voters, 
especially younger ones, would turn out to vote for president. 
Ultimately, however, the industry rallied around the initiative. The 
three major nonprofits that advocate for legalization of cannabis 
were the first to come around. They were primarily concerned about 
the timing, but once the petitions were certified they threw in their 
full support.

The California initiative shifted attention away from lobbying 
efforts in Washington. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), based in 
Washington, D.C., focuses its lobbying efforts in the beltway, and 
its political action committee has contributed to numerous federal 
elections. But Aaron Houston, MPP's chief lobbyist, said the energy 
for legalization is occurring at the state level. "We are becoming 
more decentralized," he said. "The sheer volume of supporters 
dictates a top-down strategy would not work at this point. 
Decentralization is a critical component to tactical success." Drug 
Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann was also a staunch 
supporter of the California initiative. "Now it's time again for 
California to lead the way in ending the follies of marijuana 
prohibition in favor of a responsible policy of tax and regulation," he said.

NORML executive director Alan St. Pierre said his organization was 
solidly behind the initiative. "We'll launch a major effort in which 
we'll try to redirect every dollar out there to California to help 
with the legalization effort this year," St. Pierre vowed.

But strong resistance to Lee's initiative endured, and much of it was 
coming from close allies. One of the earliest critics was Steve 
DeAngelo, the high-profile CEO of Oakland's Harborside Health Center 
dispensary, which has been featured in dozens of national television, 
radio, and print stories. With its upscale, bank-like interior, 
Harborside had been held up as a model for community orientation, 
professionalism and its work with local governments. It claimed to 
have the widest selection of cannabis strains and was at the 
forefront of product testing for contaminants.

DeAngelo has touted his history as a cannabis activist. He helped 
organize the Proposition 59 campaign in 1998, which legalized medical 
cannabis in Washington, DC, and he is a cofounder and charter member 
of the ASA. And despite his long braids, trademark fedora and 
latter-day-hippie appearance, DeAngelo is an astute businessman. In 
1991, he founded Ecolution, which sells hemp products to retail 
stores throughout the United States and in 21 other countries. In 
2006 he opened Harborside, which he claims has 48,000 members and 
serves roughly 800 people a day.

Offering its members free appointments with an on-site neuropath, 
acupuncturist and chiropractor, Harborside grosses about $20 million 
a year. The dispensary pays $2 million annually in state sales tax 
and another $360,000 for Oakland's local dispensary levy. DeAngelo 
and his partner, Dave Wedding Dress, expanded their dispensary 
operation to San Jose in 2010.

DeAngelo was initially outspoken in his opposition to Lee's 
legalization initiative. At the 2009 NORML convention in San 
Francisco, he denounced the legalization effort as a reckless 
flirtation that could severely damage the entire medical cannabis 
industry. After speaking with neighbors, police, and city officials, 
DeAngelo said he concluded they were opposed to legalization.

"Their discomfort springs from the lack of any positive image of what 
legal cannabis distribution would look like," he said. Californians 
envisioned "armed dealers setting up shop and slinging weed on 
corners of their suburban neighborhoods." They feared their children 
would be brainwashed by "glossy ads for reefer in the style of Anheuser-Busch."

To support his position, DeAngelo quoted a Fortune magazine article 
in which writer Roger Parloff advocated a slow approach to 
legalization. Parloff argued the entire cannabis industry was at risk 
if California's dispensaries failed. "If [proponents] succeed, 
they'll convince the fence sitter and lead the way to a nationwide 

"If they fail, the backlash will be savage," DeAngelo read from the 
article. "If communities cannot adequately regulate the dispensaries, 
they'll descend into unsightly, youth-seducing, crime-ridden 
playgrounds for gang-bangers, and this flirtation with legalization 
will conclude the way the last one did: with a swift and merciless 
swing of the pendulum."

Although most California communities have been managing dispensaries 
without such hellish consequences, DeAngelo told the gathering that 
Parloff's speculations were valid. "As one of those with his head on 
the chopping block, I am very concerned about that pendulum," he 
said. "We must embrace the not-for-profit, community-service model of 
cannabis distribution. When you boil down the fear of our 25 percent 
of swing voters, I would submit that it likely comes down to them not 
wanting us as a society to make the same mistakes with cannabis that 
we made with alcohol and tobacco: glamorization, excessive 
advertising driving inappropriate use, profit-making corporations 
enticing their children into lifetimes of dependency."

Instead, DeAngelo recommended waiting five to six years while the 
medical cannabis industry took hold in more states and established a 
solid track record. "Across the nation, thousands of not-for-profit, 
community-service dispensaries have created a positive model of 
cannabis distribution," he told his audience. He also suggested the 
legalization would occur organically. "At dispensaries all across the 
country, we will stop asking for medical cannabis identification and 
simply ask for adult identification. We will flip the switch at the 
dispensary door, and all adult Americans will have what hundreds of 
thousands of Californians now have -- free, safe, and affordable 
access to cannabis." But once the California Attorney General 
qualified the initiative for the 2010 state ballot, DeAngelo 
reluctantly offered his support to the campaign and even promised to 
contribute $1,000 to the effort.

Other allies were also grumbling openly about the initiative. One was 
attorney Robert Raich, legal counsel to California's earliest 
dispensary owners. Raich's credentials are extensive. He has lectured 
widely on the regulation of medical cannabis and was a member of the 
California Attorney General's Medical Marijuana Task Force, which 
crafted much of the language for SB 420. He also worked on the only 
two medical cannabis cases argued before the Supreme Court: United 
States v. Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative in 2001 and Gonzalez v. 
Raich (no relation) in 2005. In addition, Raich had taught medical 
cannabis awareness classes to Oakland Police Department cadets.

Although Raich taught at Oaksterdam University, he disagreed with 
Richard Lee when it came to Control and Tax 2010. Raich was wary of 
the new restrictions the initiative would create, such as prohibiting 
use in front of minors or in public places, outlawing sales to anyone 
between the ages of 18 and 20, and restricting growing space to 25 
square feet, which Raich said was ridiculously inadequate.

Raich asked Lee to make changes to the initiative, but Lee refused. 
Raich suspected campaign consultants had given Lee poor advice and 
convinced him he needed to curry the votes of soccer moms, who 
theoretically feel more comfortable voting for tight restrictions. 
"In fact, when I look through the eyes of someone who is unfamiliar 
with cannabis, I see so many restrictions that we might actually lose 
votes. The voter is going to say, 'This guy is a proponent who knows 
more about weed than anybody, and he wants so many restrictions that 
it must really be a dangerous drug.'"

Raich said it was foolish to make so many concessions to a perceived 
public resistance to legalization. Voters are typically driven by 
emotion rather than logic. Most people don't read the ballot text of 
a new law in detail, Raich said. "This initiative will be decided 
based on two words, 'legalize' and 'marijuana,' yes or no? That's all 
people really care about, all they'll know about, all they want to know about."

Often called the spiritual father of medical marijuana movement, 
Dennis Peron coauthored Proposition 215. He said Lee's initiative was 
so restrictive it was nothing less than a declaration of war. Peron 
has always favored a community-based vision of medical marijuana in 
which the drug was dispensed at affordable prices with as little 
commerce as possible. He bristled at the thought of the medical 
marijuana movement turning into a business driven by the bottom line. 
"Taxes?" he erupted in a San Francisco cafe in December 2009. "We 
shouldn't pay taxes. The government should pay us reparations for all 
the lives they've ruined."

Peron even recorded a video denouncing the initiative and posted it 
on YouTube. In it, he took aim at what he called the excessive 
restrictions in Lee's initiative. "To deny 18-year-olds is wrong. 
They can go buy cigarettes, they can go kill for our country..." 
Peron said in his rapid-fire style. "I started smoking when I was 18, 
and it saved my life. Also, a five-by-five area is too small. We need 
the Central Valley."

Peron criticized Lee for leading the medical marijuana movement into 
the cold world of finance. "We've given too much power to one man, to 
a person who has no sense of destiny, no sense of what it is to have 
power. He has money, and he equates that money with power," Peron 
said. "My power came from my heart and my friends. This is a movement 
about people, not money."

Peron said it was awkward to speak out against the initiative, but he 
felt he had no choice. "I don't like war, and I hate civil war. War 
with my friends is wrong," Peron said into the camera. "But I'm 
prepared for war. To sit back and do nothing would be wrong." 
Although Lee described Peron at a 2008 NORML conference as one of his 
heroes and the godfather of the medical marijuana industry, the split 
between the two men over the initiative was such that Peron stopped 
teaching at Oaksterdam.

Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access, 
declined to take a position on the initiative because the 
organization's charter prevented it from endorsing political 
campaigns. But he said medical cannabis patients must be included in 
the dialog as more states considered legalizing adult use. "Medical 
marijuana is not a means to an end; it's a means unto itself. What's 
not useful is for people to pretend to be medical marijuana advocates 
when they have a different agenda in mind. There's no integrity to 
that," Duncan said. "What could happen is it could be hurtful to our 
cause because it will be seen as a bait and switch. Advocacy for 
medical use and patients' rights should not be seen as a 
stalking-horse. It's important that activists identify which side 
they're on and stick to their message."

Lee brushed off the criticisms. As in other rights movements, Lee 
said, many see no need to keep pushing once they become comfortable. 
"I've seen a lot of people in the industry who have a monopoly. 
They're making millions of dollars, and they see legalization as a 
threat," Lee said. "There's a comfort level with the way things are. 
They're making lots of money; they have lots of good bud, so why rock 
the boat?"

In the meanwhile, though, a coalition of law enforcement agencies 
planned to challenge Lee's initiative, and their testimony hinted at 
their larger strategy. They will likely argue legalization would have 
a devastating effect on the state's public health and safety. There 
would be a significant rise in organized crime, violence, cancer, 
addiction, dropout rates and traffic deaths. Although those arguments 
were likely to carry weight, they seemed to ignore the fact that 
marijuana has been widely used in the state for decades, and they had 
failed to produce statistics to back up their claims. For example, 
there were 1,489 alcohol-related traffic fatalities in California in 
2007, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). But the 
DMV kept no such data on marijuana-related traffic fatalities. 
Instead, marijuana was included under the general heading of drug 
fatalities, which numbered 749 that year.

There are conflicting studies on marijuana as a major health threat. 
For example, the National Institutes of Health's 2006 study claimed 
there was next to no risk of cancer, no matter how much or how long 
marijuana was smoked. But a 2008 study by New Zealand scientists 
determined that smoking one joint was equivalent to smoking 20 
cigarettes; they warned of a pending "epidemic" of lung cancer. 
Marijuana smoke is on California's list of chemicals known to the 
state to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity, but marijuana itself 
is not. Although most users prefer to smoke marijuana, it can also be 
ingested through edible goods and vaporizers, which pose no risk to 
the lungs. Neither marijuana nor marijuana smoke is on the U.S. 
Department of Public Health and Human Services list of carcinogens. 
And despite decades of heavy use in the United States, there is no 
official estimate of health costs associated with marijuana.

Even so, law enforcement agencies remain convinced that marijuana is 
dangerous. Tall, ruggedly handsome, and easygoing, El Cerrito Police 
Chief Scott Kirkland was on the board of California Police Chiefs 
Association and chaired its Medical Marijuana Task Force. Standing in 
the capitol building hallway, Kirkland broadened his smile, shook his 
head again, and had only one comment: "Damn politics." Then he walked 
away with a group of fellow police chiefs.

Kirkland's primary reason for opposing legalization was its effect on 
children and youth. There was already too much marijuana in schools, 
and since medical marijuana had become legal, the situation had 
deteriorated. If adult use were legalized, he feared it would grow 
into an even bigger problem. In California, high school students who 
turned 18 before graduation could obtain medical cannabis 
recommendations, and many had become marijuana mules for their 
underage classmates. "Some of these students turn into de facto high 
school drug dealers not because they're prone to it, but just because 
they turn 18," Kirkland said. He had received calls from parents who 
found a bag of weed in the family car after their teenager had been 
driving it. "The parents want us to come and arrest them, or at least 
give their kid a scare, and I have to tell them I can't do it because 
their son or daughter has a medical marijuana recommendation, and 
it's legal for them to have marijuana," Kirklan! d said.

Kirkland was worried about medical reports that marijuana use could 
slow brain development, particularly among male teenagers. Kirkland 
said he was no expert, but he suspected a correlation between the 
higher THC content in marijuana and higher rates of learning 
disabilities among American teenagers. And like many marijuana 
activists, he was frustrated the Controlled Substances Act had 
stymied federal spending on research because marijuana was a Schedule 
I narcotic. He particularly wanted to see more medical research into 
marijuana's effect on children. "I could give a rat's ass about the 
50-year-old guy who wants to smoke a joint in his house," Kirkland 
said. "If that's how he gets relief from societal woes, so be it."

Kirkland also criticized the overall tenor of the media coverage, 
which he felt favored the cannabis industry. "I'll talk to a reporter 
for up to an hour, and when the stories come out, I'll have one 
sentence, and Richard Lee will have three paragraphs," Kirkland said. 
In 2009, Kirkland sent an editorial to the Sacramento Bee, one of the 
state's most respected newspapers, after it ran a pro-legalization 
piece by Aaron Smith, the policy director for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, who cited Gettman's tax revenue projections. Kirkland 
respectfully challenged Smith's assertions, but the Bee declined to 
run his piece, and it finally appeared in the lower-circulation 
Stanislaus County Insider.

Despite these challenges, Kirkland said he was confident that voters 
would see through campaign rhetoric and realize that legalizing yet 
another mind-altering drug was a bad idea. But influencing voters is 
a difficult task. It requires an understanding of public opinion and 
its vagaries, an ability to communicate strategically, and a deep 
commitment to the issue. Kirkland found those qualities in longtime 
Sacramento lobbyist John Lovell, a former troubleshooter for Gallo Winery.

Lovell's disheveled, avuncular image belies his reputation as a 
shrewd political operator. In 2008 he managed the campaign to defeat 
Proposition 5, which would have required the state to create more 
drug rehabilitation programs and limited the court's authority to 
sentence nonviolent drug offenders to prison.

Initially, Proposition 5 had a great deal of momentum. Early polling 
showed voters favored the proposition two to one, and wealthy 
pro-legalization tycoons contributed generously, including $1.4 
million each from international financier George Soros and Jacob 
Goldfield, the former chief investment of Soros Fund Management. 
Proponents ultimately outspent the opposition $7.6 million to $2.9 
million. But that was before Lovell went to work. He landed 
endorsements from U.S. senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer as 
well as California attorney general Jerry Brown, actor Martin Sheen, 
and farm worker icon Dolores Huerta. Lovell's campaign hammered home 
the view that the initiative was a "get-out-of-jail-free card" for 
drug offenders. "All defendants had to do was claim drug addiction, 
and the prosecutor would have the burden of proving otherwise. Voters 
didn't like that," Lovell said. "We won the election with 59 percent 
of voters saying no compared to 40 percent saying yes. ! It was a 
remarkable turnaround."

Two years after the defeat of Proposition 5, law enforcement again 
turned to Lovell. Several police associations, including the 
California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotics 
Officers Association, were working with Lovell to shape their 
campaign against 19. Lovell said he was confident the initiative 
would fail. There were a number of flaws in its text that he said 
would be relatively easy to exploit. "I think the authors made the 
classic blunder of having too many proponents in the room when they 
wrote it, and there was no one to thoroughly challenge some of its provisions."

Lovell said the initiative gave a false impression of how much tax 
revenue it would raise and allowed cities and counties to regulate 
the cannabis industry as each saw fit. "It will create 500 marijuana 
nations, and it will be one big race to the bottom," Lovell said. 
"Mexican and Asian drug cartels won't disappear; they'll just set up 
shop in friendly cities and towns and continue to operate with 
impunity." The rules would change every time law enforcement 
officials crossed a city or county line in what Lovell described as a 
"confusing crazy quilt of laws, regulations, and policies." The 
initiative would also create problems for businesses, which couldn't 
fire anyone for testing positive for marijuana. Instead, employers 
would have to demonstrate that the worker was impaired. Because 
federal contracts include a drug-free clause, California businesses 
could also miss out on lucrative opportunities.

Both campaigns were planning no-holds-barred strategies. Polls 
favored legalization, but that was no guarantee. One thing was 
certain: The campaign would be watched more closely than any other 
state initiative in the country. Its passage would send a clear 
signal to government officials and politicians throughout the country.

The initiative's success would also mean a great deal of change for 
the medical marijuana industry. Smaller dispensaries, which have had 
the market entirely to themselves for years, could face stiff 
competition from well-funded and business-savvy investors. 
Unencumbered by Proposition 215's not-for-profit requirements, they 
could capture market share by undercutting prices, launching 
aggressive advertising campaigns or using political influence to 
squeeze small operators out of the marketplace. Franchises could 
eventually spread to Oregon, Washington and Nevada, which were also 
developing campaigns to legalize adult use.

Even if the initiative failed, the marijuana industry would continue 
to grow at a rapid clip. In Colorado the industry was quickly 
catching up to California in the number of dispensaries, political 
sophistication, and support infrastructure. Maine, Rhode Island, New 
Mexico and Montana were developing successful dispensary models. 
Insiders joked about the rise of "Starbuds" -- a fictional 
corporate-styled dispensary chain with identical interior designs, 
uniformed budtenders, and standardized customer greetings --but that 
reality might not be far off.

No matter what the vehicle -- legalization or the continued growth of 
the medical marijuana industry -- the marijuana business would 
continue to change rapidly. And in the misty, forested hills of 
northern California, longtime marijuana growing communities were 
watching the new developments anxiously -- and wondering whether 
their way of life would soon be finished. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake