Pubdate: Thu, 08 Nov 2012
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Kevin Fagan


Brian Vicente, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign, waits to
start a news conference about the legalization of marijuana at Civic
Center Park in Denver. Photo: Ed Andrieski, Associated Press / SF

Brian Vicente, co-director of the Yes on 64 campaign, waits to
start a news conference about the legalization of marijuana at Civic
Center Park in Denver. Photo: Ed Andrieski, Associated Press / SF

Historic votes in Colorado and Washington to legalize recreational use
of marijuana have fired up California advocates to go before the
state's voters again sometime in the next four years - but nobody's
breaking out the party bongs just yet.

Although legalization in the two other Western states is encouraging
to pot fans, it doesn't erase significant hurdles in the Golden State.

The federal government still opposes legalization, medical-marijuana
clubs are still being shut down throughout the state, and most polls
still have support for casual pot smoking at 50 percent at best.

The U.S. Justice Department, which has forced the closure of hundreds
of medical marijuana operations around California in the past year,
didn't come right out and say it would sue to overturn the
recreational-use laws that Colorado and Washington voters approved
Tuesday, the first ever in the country. But it came close. Banned drug

"The department's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains
unchanged," said Justice Department spokeswoman Nanda Chitre, who
noted that the federal law classifies marijuana as a dangerous,
illegal drug.

Marijuana proponents say such adamancy is just a dying gasp of a
failed antimarijuana policy that wastes law enforcement resources in
crackdowns on a substance no more harmful than beer.

"Tuesday was the tipping point," said Stephen DeAngelo, co-founder of
the nation's biggest medical cannabis dispensary, Harborside Health
Center in Oakland. "Legalization is going to be unstoppable now. This
is a very clear signal to the Obama administration that it's time to
end this crackdown on cannabis."

DeAngelo and the city of Oakland have been fighting federal efforts to
shut his dispensary since July, and he spent this week in Washington
and Colorado supporting the pro-pot efforts. Big victory margins

"The margin of victory in Colorado and Washington show that these new
laws were clearly not passed by only the cannabis community," he said.
"People who don't even like cannabis voted in favor because they
recognize that prohibition is damaging."

Colorado's Amendment 64 passed with 54.6 percent of the vote.
Washington's Initiative 502 won with 55.4 percent. Both allow anyone
21 or older to buy up to one ounce of marijuana, and authorize state
officials to set up regulations for sales and taxation - which is
expected to fetch millions of dollars in revenue.

California pot advocates' effort in 2010 to legalize marijuana,
Proposition 19, failed with 46 percent of the vote, and a Los Angeles
Times/University of Southern California poll in May showed public
opinion still mirrors that split.

However, a national Gallup poll last year put support for legalizing
pot at 50 percent for the first time in its history, and a Rasmussen
Reports survey in May put support nationally at 56 percent. High on
the list

"California is near the top of the list of states where we will try to
run a campaign," said Tom Angell, spokesman for the national group Law
Enforcement Against Prohibition, which worked on the efforts in
California, Colorado and Washington. "But it's also very expensive.
The polling numbers will be important as to whether major donors can
come on board."

One strategy, he said, is to capitalize on Tuesday's momentum and aim
for the 2014 state ballot. The other is to wait until the next
presidential race in 2016, when the heavy youth vote - a likely factor
in Tuesday's wins - could give a California measure the push it needs.

None of that optimism affects ardent opponents.

"If dopers what to legalize it because they want to get high, there's
going to be a huge legal wall for them to climb," said Carla Lowe,
director of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana. Pot defeats

She pointed out that also in Tuesday's election, Oregon voters turned
down a recreational-use proposal, and four towns near San Diego
rejected authorization for medical marijuana dispensaries.

"No matter how much drug money the other side puts into campaigns,"
Lowe said, "they just can't get around the fact that it's still
illegal under federal law."

Hearst Washington Bureau reporter Dan Freedman contributed to this
report. Kevin Fagan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt