Pubdate: Thu, 24 Nov 2011
Source: Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Column: The 420
Copyright: 2011 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: David Downs
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


California Voters Don't Want to Legalize Pot Just Yet-but They Don't 
Think Anyone Should Go to Jail for It, Either. a New Ballot 
Initiative Might Just Make This a Reality.

Pot-smoking California liberals may not be voting for Republican 
presidential candidate Herman Cain anytime soon-even though, this 
week, he did come out in favor of state's rights when it comes to 
regulation of medical cannabis. That's a step up from the Golden 
State's current imbroglio with the feds, at least, and President 
Barack Obama's admittedly confusing stance on pot.

Turns out, though, California voters have a similarly mixed stance on 
the drug. They're not ready to outright legalize marijuana, but they 
don't think anybody should be going to jail for using it, either. Or 
at least that's what extensive surveys have found, according to 
Northern California political consultant Bill Zimmerman. He says he's 
running an initiative to give the people what they want: decriminalization.

Last week, the California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced 
that Zimmerman's Reduced Marijuana Penalties initiative had qualified 
for circulation. The initiative limits punishment to a $250 fine or 
community service for possession, cultivation, sale or transportation 
of up to 2 ounces of marijuana. It retains existing penalties for 
marijuana offenses on school grounds and for offenses involving 
selling pot to a minor, employment of a minor in a criminal marijuana 
enterprise, and driving under the influence of marijuana. But it 
makes property forfeiture laws inapplicable to marijuana offenses 
involving 2 ounces or less.

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 Proposition 19 and found that 
"the electorate in California is not ready to legalize marijuana for 
a variety of reasons," he said at a recent conference. But he said 
the surveys also show that "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 added. "In the rush to ignore the first 
conclusion, the second was overlooked as well."

So, amid a field of more radical alternatives, Zimmerman-a veteran 
campaign manager of Proposition 215-said he decided to draft his own 
initiative independently. It extends the decriminalization of adult 
marijuana use significantly beyond what Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger 
signed before leaving office.

"It essentially decriminalizes all cannabis use involving 2 ounces or 
less, for possession, sale, transport, and cultivation," Zimmerman said.

Presidential elections are key to marijuana-law reform, but 
Californians are not yet ready to legalize pot, he argued. "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," he added.

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.

All California marijuana initiatives face funding challenges. It 
takes $1.5 million to get on the ballot, Zimmerman 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 amid a field of long shots.

"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 a full legalization 
measure in 2016," he said.

The 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 of 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.

Yet with groups such as Regulate Marijuana Like Wine hoping that the 
electorate will support full legalization along with new taxes and 
regulation to alleviate some of 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," he said. "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-it'll just be 
pissed away by politicians."

Expect more on Initiative 1518 as it develops.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom