Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times
Author: Joe Mozingo


Marijuana Legalization Activists Vowed to Craft a Strong Initiative 
for 2012, Now Four Camps Vie for Funding.

March 10, 2012 - Just weeks before the deadline for state ballot 
initiatives, the effort to put a marijuana legalization measure 
before voters in the general election is in disarray as the federal 
government cracks down on medical cannabis and activists are divided 
on their goals.

After Proposition 19 received 46% of the vote in 2010, proponents 
took heart at the near-miss. They held meetings in Berkeley and Los 
Angeles and vowed to put a well-funded measure to fully legalize 
marijuana on the 2012 ballot, when the presidential election would 
presumably draw more young voters.

Instead, five different camps filed paperwork in Sacramento for five 
separate initiatives. One has given up already and the other four are 
teetering, vying for last-minute funding from a handful of potential donors.

Backers need more than $2 million to hire professional petitioners to 
get the 700,000-plus signatures they say they need by April 20 to 
qualify for the ballot. But they are getting little financial support 
from medical marijuana dispensaries that have profited from laws that 
pot activists brought forth in earlier years.

Certainly, some dispensaries cannot help because they are paying 
large legal bills to fend off the federal government. But like 
growers, dispensary operators know that broader legalization could 
lower prices and bring more competitors into their business.

Of the four possible initiatives, the one apparently with the most 
vocal support within the movement is the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition 
Act, written by defense attorneys who specialize in marijuana cases. 
The measure would repeal state criminal statutes on marijuana 
possession, except those for driving while impaired or selling to 
minors. The state Department of Health would have 180 days to enact 
regulations before commercial sales became legal.

Libertarian activists came up with Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, 
which would have the department of Alcoholic Beverage Control oversee 
marijuana sales, same as beer and wine. Backers commissioned a poll 
they say found that 62% of Californians would support the measure. 
But time is against them. They filed early, so their deadline for 
signatures is March 20. So far, they have collected only about 50,000.

A third proposal comes from the Reefer Raiders, friends and disciples 
of the late pot guru and author Jack Herer, who have filed pot 
initiatives in one form or another since 1980. Led by a wild-bearded 
Bert "Buddy" Duzy, the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative 
would legalize "cannabis hemp" for industrial, medicinal, nutritional 
and "euphoric" use.

The fourth idea comes from more staid groups: Americans for Safe 
Access, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 and the state 
chapter of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws 
(NORML). They are pushing the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control 
and Taxation Act, which would give more legitimacy to medical 
marijuana by adding state oversight and controls that the Legislature 
has been unable to enact.

At a recent forum in Marin County, Dale Gieringer, the state director 
for NORML, elicited consternation from the audience when he said that 
voters were more likely to go for regulating medical cannabis than 
allowing commercial sale - a key rift within the movement.

Proponents of all the initiatives have lamented that they had to 
compete with one another. "We're all chasing the same dollars," said 
Steve Collett, a Libertarian activist and Venice CPA who's behind the 
marijuana-like-wine measure.

Collett said that given the federal crackdown on dispensaries that 
began five months ago, he hoped the marijuana industry would pour 
money into the ballot initiatives, particularly his, which includes a 
provision to prohibit local and state authorities from aiding the 
Drug Enforcement Administration on pot cases. But the industry hasn't 
come through in any notable way.

"This is very difficult to understand," said Steve Kubby, a longtime 
activist who worked on the medical marijuana Proposition 215 in 1996 
and is the main proponent of Regulate Marijuana Like Wine. "Here's an 
industry that was able to come up with $100 million in taxes last 
year but is unable to come up with money to ensure its own future in 
the face of a federal government trying to exterminate them."

The state Board of Equalization estimates it annually collects 
between $57 million and $105 million in sales tax from dispensaries.

Backers of all four measures predict that the price of marijuana 
would drop if any of them passed. In Israel, where medical marijuana 
is legal, prices are a fraction of what they are in California.

"A distinct minority of the dispensaries are actually supporting 
legal reform, maybe 10%," said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of 
the state's largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center in Oakland. 
"That's a symptom of an unregulated market. Anyone can jump in. And 
the people who jump in like gray areas. They like no regulations. 
They just want to jump in and make as much money as they can."

DeAngelo is backing the medical regulation initiative because he says 
Californians need to see medical cannabis safely and responsibly 
distributed before they will trust broader legalization. The measure 
would create a state marijuana board, levy a supplemental sales tax 
and require mandatory registration for all cultivators, processors 
and distributors.

Debby Goldsberry, a longtime activist and co-chair of the Repeal 
Cannabis Prohibition Act, said some dispensary owners don't put much 
hope in being saved by ballot initiatives. They view the current 
crackdown as a backlash to the near-success of Proposition 19, .

Since October, the feds have waged a multipronged attack.

In California, the DEA has raided at least 36 dispensaries and 
growers, confiscating marijuana, cash and computers. The state's four 
U.S. attorneys have sent at least 150 letters to landlords of 
dispensaries, ordering them to evict their tenants or face seizure of 
their property and prosecution. They've also threatened cities and 
counties that have tried to set up a permit system for dispensaries 
and growers.

On the financial front, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. has 
pressured banks to close accounts linked to marijuana. And the IRS 
has audited dozens of dispensaries using an obscure provision of the 
federal tax code that prohibits drug traffickers from making any deductions.

Harborside was ordered to pay $2.5 million in back taxes. "All our 
funds that we could have used for political purposes are tied up in 
litigation," DeAngelo said.

The wealthy donors who helped fund Proposition 19, including 
billionaire George Soros and retired insurance executive Peter Lewis, 
are more likely to fund measures in Colorado and Washington state 
that have already qualified for the ballot. Those are cheaper states 
to win, requiring far less media buys.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the Drug Policy Alliance and an advisor 
to Soros, said measures in those states are "tightly drafted 
initiatives and the polling is looking good."

This week, in California, the proponents of the medical initiative 
began turning their efforts to an Assembly bill that would establish 
similar regulation. They are hoping legislators will be spurred to 
act by Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, who sent letters to the leaders of 
both chambers in December urging that "state law itself needs to be 
reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to law 
enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals may 
cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana."

Still, in a last-ditch effort to get one measure on the ballot, the 
backers of the three remaining legalization proposals agreed to 
endorse whichever one got funding.

"At this point we're at a Hail Mary pass situation," said defense 
attorney William Panzer, a coauthor of the Repeal Cannabis 
Prohibition Act and Proposition 215. "But if we make the Hail Mary 
pass, we have a chance."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom