Pubdate: Wed, 09 Nov 2011
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2011 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


Californians aren't ready to legalize pot, but they don't think
anybody should be going to jail for using it either. That's what
extensive surveys say, according to San Francisco political consultant
Bill Zimmerman, and that's why he's running an initiative to give the
people what they want.

On Tuesday, the California Secretary of State announced that
Zimmerman's "Reduced Marijuana Penalties" initiative may circulate.
The initiative limits punishment to a $250 fine or community service
for possession, cultivation, sale, or transportation of up to two
ounces of marijuana. It retains existing penalties for marijuana
offenses on school grounds and for offenses involving sale to a minor,
employment of a minor in a criminal marijuana enterprise, and driving
under influence of marijuana. It makes property forfeiture laws
inapplicable to marijuana offenses involving two ounces or less. It
also retains laws regarding marijuana in the workplace, driving under
influence, and medical marijuana.

The proponents now have 150 days to circulate petitions for this
measure, meaning the signatures must be collected by April 5, 2012.

Zimmerman said his group spent a great deal of time and money on
public opinion research polling after Prop 19 and found:

1) "the electorate in California is not ready to legalize marijuana
for a variety of reasons," he said.

2) But, "we have won the argument about people not going to jail for
marijuana offenses."

"A strong majority in the state seems to agree that the private adult
use of marijuana - even though it shouldn't be legal -- should not
result in incarceration," he said.

"In the rush to ignore the first conclusion, the second was overlooked 
as well," he said. So,amid a field of more radical alternatives, 
Zimmerman -- a veteran campaign manager of Prop 215 -- said he decided 
draft his own initiative independently.

It extends the decriminalization of adult marijuana use significantly
beyond what Governor Schwarzenegger signed before leaving office. "It
essentially decriminalizes all cannabis use involving two ounces or
less, for possession, sale, transport and cultivation."

Presidential elections are key to marijuana law reform, Zimmerman 
said, and even though "we do not have a viable opportunity to move the 
ball as far forward as legalization...we have an opportunity in 2012 
to move the ball forward." In other words, legalization ain't 
happening in 2012, so voters should take what they can get this 
presidential cycle - and that is more decriminalization. And since the 
next opportunity isn't until 2016, "it seems sensible to move the ball 
forward as far as we can," he said.

All California marijuana initiatives face funding problems this 
election. It takes $1.5 million to get on the ballot, he said, and 
perhaps $15 million for a full election. "Without the cash we're not 
going to get on ballot."

Initiative 1518 needs 504,760 signatures from registered voters - the 
number equal to 5 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the 
2010 gubernatorial election - in order to qualify it for the ballot. 

Zimmerman said he's only putting the initiative forward in case the 
big money wants a safe bet amidst a field of longshots. 

"We can demonstrate through polling that significant decriminalization 
of marijuana use is an obtainable goal in 2012 and hopefully it would 
lead to the ability to pass full a legalization measure in 2016."

The Secretary of State's Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance 
say the fiscal impact of Initiative 1518 on state and local government 
includes "unknown savings to state and local governments on the costs 
of enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related 
criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising 
certain marijuana offenders." While more than half the murders in the 
state go unsolved each year, pot tickets have skyrocketed. Arresting 
stoners is relatively easy, and they tend to be cordial captives, 
former police officers say.

With groups like "Regulate Marijuana Like Wine" hoping the electorate 
will support full legalization along with new taxes and regulation to 
alleviate the state's dire economic woes, Zimmerman urges caution.

"We found people don't believe that the savings realized or the new 
tax revenue generated will be used effectively. We live in an era when 
people think government is inept or corrupt, and that perception 
undermines our ability to ask people to vote for this because it'll save money.

"They don't believe the money will do anything for them. I'll just be 
pissed away by politicians."

Expect more on Initiative 1518 as it develops.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.