Pubdate: Thu, 17 Jan 2013
Source: Chico News & Review, The (CA)
Copyright: 2013 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: David Downs


in November Colorado and Washington Became the First States to 
Legalize Marijuana. Is California Next?

When news broke on election night that Colorado was the first state 
to legalize marijuana, patrons at the trendy Casselman's Bar & Venue 
in Denver erupted in cheers, then hugged each other and cried. 
Organizers and friends of the state's Campaign to Regulate Marijuana 
Like Alcohol thanked everyone-elderly black women, young hipsters, 
business execs-and there were far more people in suits than in 
tie-dye that night. And nary a hint of ganja smoke inside the hip 

A few hours later, in Seattle's Hotel Aendra, travel writer Rick 
Steves joined business leaders and members of the American Civil 
Liberties Union, along with Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, in 
thanking volunteers for making cannabis-legalization history in 
Washington as well.

But cheers for Colorado and Washington that evening were accompanied 
by a bit of jealousy here in California, where voters narrowly 
defeated this state's pot-legalization measure, Proposition 19, in 2010.

"A lot of people have said to me, 'How come we couldn't do that last 
election?'" remarked Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police 
Department deputy chief and a member of Law Enforcement Against 
Prohibition (LEAP).

But the victories in Colorado and Washington sparked more than just 
envy in the Golden State. Amanda Reiman, with the Drug Policy 
Alliance, says a new legalization initiative is now on the tip of 
everyone's tongue in the California reform community.

"This was something that we were talking about before the election," 
she said. "The results of the election have just ramped up those 
conversations, absolutely."

Today, it's not a question of whether California will legalize 
marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Now, people just ask when.

All eyes on California

"A lot of people in California are starting to talk about a future 
campaign-certainly the debate about 2014 vs. 2016, all that's being 
engaged," said Bill Zimmerman, who helped run California's successful 
Proposition 215 medical-marijuana initiative in 1996.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, for 
instance, has planned a conference on legalization in California 
later this month, Jan. 26 and 27, in San Francisco. All the big 
players in the marijuana world-NORML, the Marijuana Policy Project, 
the Drug Policy Alliance, LEAP, Americans for Safe Access, the 
Emerald Growers Association, the Oaksterdam community in Oakland-have 
been holding both public and private talks as well.

And a new California legalization initiative may not be the only one 
in the nation. Recent polls show that Americans are increasingly 
comfortable with the idea of bringing pot out of the closet. A survey 
released last month from the respected polling organization run by 
Quinnipiac University showed that Americans now favor marijuana 
legalization 51 percent to 44 percent. It's a historic shift.

Americans also believe that states, not the federal government, 
should decide whether pot is legal. A Gallup poll released on Dec. 
10, 2012, revealed that 64 percent of Americans want to leave 
marijuana policy up to the states.

"I would not be surprised to see [cannabis legalization] on the 
ballot in a number of places in 2014 and 2016," said Beau Kilmer, 
co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the nonpartisan 
think tank the RAND Corporation.

But replicating the wins in Colorado and Washington isn't simply a 
matter of copying and pasting initiatives, reform experts say. The 
victories in both states came from a decade of hard work resulting 
not only in strong political coalitions and palatable initiative 
language, but also campaigns run by professional operatives armed 
with lots of cash.

Experts also say California is a different beast entirely. Moreover, 
evidence has emerged that drug warriors are already lobbying the 
Obama administration to overturn election outcomes in Colorado and 
Washington before states like California can legalize pot, too.

How Colorado and Washington freed weed

The Colorado victory may have blindsided the federal government, but 
the movement toward marijuana legalization had been building for a long time.

The state's Amendment 64 really began with the Safer Alternative for 
Enjoyable Recreation education campaign, which relentlessly hammered 
home the message that marijuana is safer than alcohol. Then, in 2006, 
SAFER ran a statewide pot-legalization initiative. Although it 
failed, the defeat taught the group some key lessons, including the 
importance of grassroots campaigning and building a solid political 

Meanwhile, in Denver elected lawmakers had become leaders of the 
national medical-marijuana movement. Coloradans legalized medical 
weed at the ballot box in 2000, but the medical-pot industry's rapid 
and unchecked growth sparked intense criticism. The Colorado 
Legislature responded by passing seed-to-sale regulations for the 
state in 2010.

The new rules are administered by the Colorado Department of Revenue, 
and today gun- and badge-carrying officers from the Medical Marijuana 
Enforcement Division regulate the industry. Pot cops monitor grow 
rooms and club transactions via remote cameras linked to the 
Internet, while ensuring the collection of millions in tax revenue 
for the state.

Against this backdrop, in which the electorate not only had become 
aware that pot is safer than booze, but also realized that the state 
had a functioning system for controlling medical cannabis, 
marijuana-law reformers decided to launch another initiative for 
2012. The Marijuana Policy Project, a nationwide effort to 
decriminalize pot and keep users out of prison, provided 90 percent 
of the funding for the Amendment 64 campaign, according to Mason 
Tvert, its co-director. The Drug Policy Alliance, another nationwide 
drug-reform group, donated the other 10 percent.

The highly professional campaign in Colorado conducted polling, 
drafted initiative language and paid signature gatherers to get the 
necessary valid signatures to put Amendment 64 on the ballot. The 
campaign also worked closely with the Students for Sensible Drug 
Policy, LEAP, the ACLU of Colorado, and the National Association for 
the Advancement of Colored People of Colorado to mobilize thousands 
of volunteers to go door to door and staff phone banks.

Like those of Prop. 19 in California, opponents of Amendment 64 spent 
less than half a million dollars, so the campaign was the reformers' 
to lose. Amendment 64's ads featured and targeted a key swing group: 
young moms. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol campaign didn't extol 
the virtues of pot: Instead, it talked about controlling the drug to 
keep it away from kids and promised that the tax revenue from pot 
regulation would benefit schools.

"I think folks in Colorado and Washington learned from California's 
experience," said Kilmer of RAND.

Farther west, Washington-a liberal state with a long history of 
supporting medical cannabis-also had a group of serious professionals 
who slam-dunked pot legalization in a state that was simply waiting for it.

Washingtonians legalized medical pot in 1998, two years after 
Californians, and ever since have struggled with how to regulate the 
drug-not unlike what has happened in the Golden State. Illegal 
dispensaries have thrived in cities like Seattle, but they've also 
been subject to raids by federal, state and local authorities.

Fed up with that chaos, pillars of the Washington community came 
together to run the Initiative 502 campaign, known as New Approach 
Washington. The campaign sponsors included Washington ACLU 
drug-policy director Alison Holcomb, Seattle City Attorney Holmes, 
former U.S. Attorney John McKay, celebrity travel writer Rick Steves, 
Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, two former presidents of the Washington 
State Bar, and a former professor at the University of Washington. 
This was no coalition of hippie dreamers.

Much like Colorado, the Washington group polled extensively and came 
up with a moderate form of legalization that lifted penalties for 
adults possessing personal amounts, but banned home growing, created 
a tough new drugged-driving standard, and taxed the industry heavily 
to fund schools and research.

New Approach Washington spent about $5.7 million on the campaign, 
including about $2 million on TV advertisements that put 
tough-talking law-enforcement officials against prohibition front and center.

Initiative 502 passed, 55 percent to 45 percent, with 1.7 million 
votes for and 1.4 million votes against. Colorado's Amendment 64 won 
by the same margin, 55 percent to 45 percent, with 1.3 million votes 
cast for it and 1 million votes cast against.

But California is not Washington or Colorado. We're bigger and more 
diverse. The pot-legalization movement here also has failed over the 
years to unite behind a statewide measure. And, while drug-law 
reformers foresee a domino effect from pot legalization in two 
states, a historic backlash is possible as well.

The California way

One major hurdle for marijuana legalization in California is the 
diversity of opinion among residents.

"In Washington and Colorado, you can win over mainstream opinion and 
you're then likely to win an election," said Zimmerman of Prop. 215 
fame. "Here in California, you've got to win the approval of a number 
of different communities, many of which often act independently of 
the mainstream: Latinos, African-Americans, youth, senior citizens. 
It's a much more complex task."

It will also be more costly: more than $1 million to gather the 
half-million valid signatures needed to put an initiative on the 
California ballot, experts say. Campaign marketing and operations 
could cost anywhere from $5 million to $15 million.

But Reiman said pockets this deep do exist in the reform community. 
"A lot of people have $5 [million] to $10 million dollars lying 
around. It's just a question of whether the people that have that 
lying around are going to find [marijuana legalization] a worthy cause."

Funders will want to see an initiative that's winnable at the polls 
yet acceptable to the fractious gaggle of reform groups in 
California. And that could be tough. During the Prop. 19 race, 
Oaksterdam organizers in Oakland not only had to fight the California 
Police Chiefs Association and the beer industry, but also the 
entrenched medical- and illegal-marijuana interests in Southern and 
Northern California.

Sharp divisiveness in the California cannabis community combined with 
tepid mainstream support in the electorate has also scared big donors 
over the years. And without the needed cash, legalization efforts 
have stalled. No fewer than five groups tried to get a pot-law reform 
initiative on the California ballot in 2012. All failed.

But Zimmerman and Reiman think there is enough objective data on 
California voter preferences to enable reform groups to agree on 
ballot language this time around. Even if the most extreme examples 
of "stoners against legalization" don't agree with new 
drugged-driving laws or caps on home growing, the extremists "pale in 
comparison to people like moms in their 30s in Southern California" 
who voted against Prop. 19, Reiman noted.

Indeed, the gender gap over pot legalization remains strong-and 
that's true throughout the nation. According to the Quinnipiac poll, 
American men support legalization 59 percent to 36 percent, but women 
oppose it 52 percent to 44 percent.

The age gap remains persistent as well. Nationwide, residents 65 and 
older strongly oppose legalization: 56 percent to 35 percent, 
according to the Quinnipiac poll. By contrast, younger voters 
adamantly support it. Those aged 18 to 29 want pot legalized, 67 
percent to 29 percent, and those aged 30 to 44 support it, 58 percent 
to 39 percent. In the 45-64 age group, 48 percent support marijuana 
legalization compared to 47 percent who oppose it. "It seems likely," 
said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University 
Polling Institute, "that given the better-than-2-1 majority among 
younger voters, legalization is just a matter of time."

For many pot-legalization reformers, however, that time is not 2014. 
The California electorate is different in nonpresidential-election 
years, Zimmerman noted. Republicans tend to come out in force in the 
off years, while Democrats stay home. Historically, off-year 
elections have given us Republican Governors Ronald Reagan, Pete 
Wilson, George Deukmejian and Arnold Schwarzenegger. And a whopping 
69 percent of California Republicans said no to pot legalization in a 
May 2012 Los Angeles Times poll.

"There are going to be people tempted by 2014; I think that would be 
a disaster," Zimmerman said. "It could be another rebuke, which would 
make it much more difficult to pass an initiative in 2016."

But waiting for the youth vote and Democrats in 2016 isn't a sure 
thing either, particularly when California's top Democratic leaders 
remain opposed to pot legalization, including Senators Dianne 
Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Gov. Jerry Brown.

Part of the reason Californians haven't moved further on legalization 
may be due to the turmoil surrounding medical marijuana in the state. 
Brown went on CNN after the election to say the Obama administration 
should respect states' rights with regard to pot laws, but he also 
said California's system has seen "abuses."

"We've got a medical-marijuana dispensary situation that is a mess," 
said Zimmerman. "If we can't clean that up and show the public that 
we're capable in California of running marijuana distribution with 
medical patients, I'm not sure that they're going to allow us to 
create a marijuana-distribution system for recreational users."

The California Supreme Court also has yet to rule on the legality of 
dispensaries, or a city's right to ban them. San Francisco 
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano will reintroduce a medical-marijuana-industry 
regulation bill next year, but Sacramento legislators have worried 
about touching what they view as an electric third rail in state politics.

There's also the possibility that pot already might be legal enough 
for many Californians. When he was in office, Schwarzenegger made 
simple possession an infraction. Since then, juvenile arrests for pot 
have plummeted to their lowest levels since record keeping began in 
the 1950s. In addition, most adult residents can get a medical 
recommendation for weed, and dispensaries and delivery services 
abound. According to RAND, the most common price Americans pay for 
pot is zero dollars. The reason? People typically receive it as a 
gift from friends.

Legalization blowback

History is replete with political tipping points-moments in time when 
large numbers of people change their minds about a controversial 
issue. In addition to marijuana legalization, same-sex marriage 
appears to be at a political tipping point, too. In 2008, a 
Quinnipiac poll showed that Americans opposed gay marriage 55 percent 
to 36 percent. But in just four years, the country's mood shifted 
dramatically; now, 48 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, 
compared to 46 percent opposed. That's a 17-point swing.

"When these social issues begin to change and the public begins to 
view them a little different, the numbers can tumble pretty 
radically," said Zimmerman.

Some pundits have credited President Barack Obama's decision earlier 
this year to come out in support of same-sex marriage for helping 
turn the tide on that issue. Conversely, if his administration 
embarks on a federal campaign to punish Washington and Colorado for 
legalizing pot, it could have a chilling effect on reform efforts.

Yes, Obama told ABC News last month that busting potheads in Colorado 
and Washington was not an effective use of federal resources, but he 
didn't say anything about busting marijuana businesses. Senate 
Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont has called 
for hearings in 2013 on the conflict between state and federal law. 
Meanwhile, Attorney General Eric Holder has said recently the 
Department of Justice will announce its policy "soon."

And while the federal government cannot stop states from repealing 
drug laws, it could sue to try to block the implementation of 
regulations in Colorado and Washington. The feds could also attempt 
to withhold transportation funds, or other retaliatory moves.

Holder may have single-handedly defeated Prop. 19 when he flew into 
Los Angeles for a pre-election press conference and blasted the 
initiative. Federal tolerance of state legalization also could 
threaten U.S. treaties with Latin American countries that fight our 
drug war, said Isaac Campos, a marijuana-prohibition historian at the 
University of Cincinnati.

Former Drug Enforcement Administration head Peter Bensinger is trying 
to mobilize retired DEA agents and narcotics officers to lobby the 
Obama administration for a crackdown, according to correspondence. In 
one email dated Nov. 15, 2012, Bensinger urged the Association of 
Former Federal Narcotics Agents to take action: "We want to make it 
easy for all of you to help us put pressure on the Administration to 
step in and stop Colorado and Washington from implementing the 
legalization of marijuana," he wrote. "We need to push back."

Drug warriors also have a strong economic incentive to fight 
legalization. "The money [from the federal war on drugs] is just too 
big for police departments through grants and asset seizures," 
explained Downing of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "The state 
prison population is going down for the first time ever, but the 
federal prison population is increasing. All of that has to do with money."

And the backlash from drug warriors may be working. On Dec. 7, The 
New York Times reported that the Obama Justice Department is weighing 
options as to how to respond to Colorado and Washington and whether 
to launch a crackdown or file lawsuits in those states.

At the same time, drug-reform advocates are girding for a long, tough 
battle. "I think it's vital for anybody who wants to keep the 
momentum going to recognize that there's going to be blowback in a 
serious way," explained Campos. "There's an enormous amount of 
practical, material interests wrapped up in the drug war. Those 
people must be putting a lot of pressure on Obama right now. The 
prison-industrial complex is super-dependent on the war on drugs. 
We're at a really crucial moment."

Legalization in Washington and Colorado marks not only the beginning 
of the end, many say, but also the beginning of the most difficult part.

"We are looking up a huge mountain right now, and we're all taking 
deep breaths and looking around and gearing up for a really long but 
hopefully successful fight," Reiman said. "I think Californians are ready."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom