Pubdate: Fri, 27 Dec 2013
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


On New Year's Day in Colorado, state-licensed marijuana stores will 
begin selling pot purely for pleasurable consumption.

Colorado, already home to the nation's most regulated medical 
marijuana industry, expects to open its first two dozen stores 
selling recreational cannabis users up to an ounce of pot each. 
Another 400 applications are pending for retail marijuana shops, 
commercial cultivators or pot product producers.

In Washington, where voters also legalized recreational marijuana use 
in November 2012, the state is reviewing a flood of applications for 
340 state licenses for marijuana stores expected to begin opening this spring.

Now in California, where a recent Field poll showed 55 percent voter 
support for marijuana legalization beyond medical use, four pot 
legalization ballot initiatives have emerged as contenders for the 
November ballot.

Yet in the home of America's largest marijuana economy, advocates 
remain hesitant about moving forward - and putting the necessary 
money on the line - to qualify a California pot legalization vote 
next year. They remain uncertain over the state's political climate 
and are frustrated by failure of lawmakers to set rules governing 
California's medical marijuana trade, once estimated at $1.5 billion, 
in the face of federal raids on cannabis businesses.

Some advocates want California to have a regulatory scheme in place 
for the marijuana market before moving forward, while others argue 
that 2016 will present a more favorable voting poll for broader legalization.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said 
in a conference call last week that the marijuana legalization votes 
in Colorado and Washington will most likely lead to similar ballot 
measures in Oregon and, possibly, Alaska next year. He suggested that 
as many as six states - including Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, 
Arizona and Missouri - could vote on legalization measures in 2016. 
But he is undecided on timing for California.

Last month, Drug Policy Alliance, a legalization group backed by 
business magnate and philanthropist George Soros, submitted a 
proposed 2014 California ballot initiative  "The Control, Regulate 
and Tax Marijuana Act." It would legalize possession, use and 
cultivation of marijuana in California regardless of medical need and 
put the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in charge of 
licensing pot growers, distributors and retail stores in a 
recreational marijuana industry.

"There is something about what happened in Colorado and Washington 
that made it all real. Legalization went from being an abstract 
policy option to a political reality," Nadelmann said. And yet he 
said the Drug Policy Alliance will wait until February before 
declaring whether a 2014 California vote is viable.

"California had got good polling and good support, but it's obviously 
a huge state and very expensive to do a campaign," said Nadelmann. He 
said the group may stick with its original plan to launch a 
California marijuana legalization initiative in the 2016 presidential 
election year, with its larger pool of younger voters.

Should DPA move forward next year, other advocates led by Ed 
Rosenthal, a famed marijuana author and cannabis-growing guru, say 
they will place a rival measure on the 2014 ballot because they 
oppose the drug policy group's proposal for a 25 percent gross 
receipts tax on pot businesses.

Rosenthal said he has financial backing for his alternative measure, 
the Cannabis Policy Reform Act of 2014. Submitted to the state last 
week, it calls for 6 percent taxes on commercial marijuana production 
and sales, and state rules for indoor and outdoor pot cultivation.

Another coalition, led by medical marijuana dispensary interests, has 
been approved for signature gathering for an initiative to create a 
Cannabis Control Commission to regulate the existing medical 
marijuana industry as well as recreational sales. Meanwhile, a group 
inspired by Jack Herer, a legendary California cannabis advocate who 
died in 2010, is collecting signatures for a little-funded measure to 
repeal state marijuana laws and expunge criminal records for anyone 
convicted of nonviolent pot offenses.

For now, people on all sides of the marijuana debate are mostly 
watching Washington and Colorado.

"I think California is watching on the sidelines to see how this 
shakes out," said Dale Gieringer, California director for the 
National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Let's have 
Washington and Colorado on the line and see whether they can get this 
adult (recreational) use market working and also see what happens to 
medical marijuana."

John Lovell, lobbyist for associations of California narcotics 
officers and police chiefs, said Colorado and Washington will 
diminish enthusiasm for expanded pot legalization in California by 
"demonstrating the social harm that will be done" through 
recreational marijuana sales.

However, commercial pot sales in the two states got a boost Aug. 29 
when a U.S. Justice Department memo said federal authorities won't 
target licensed marijuana businesses in states "implementing strong 
and effective regulatory and enforcement systems" to govern cannabis 
cultivation, distribution and sales." The memo by Deputy Attorney 
General James Cole said the government will continue to prosecute 
marijuana operations tied to criminal enterprises, pot sales to 
minors and trafficking to states where marijuana remains illegal.

In California, law enforcement has strenuously opposed marijuana 
industry regulations, with Lovell declaring that police won't accept 
any bill authorizing "free-standing pot shops." Marijuana regulations 
failed in the last two legislative sessions and are expected to be 
resumed next year.

"In California, we have the particular dilemma in that the 
Legislature is incapable of agreeing on how to regulate medical 
marijuana," said Stephen Gutwillig, a Los Angeles-based deputy 
director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "And they are incapable of 
advancing marijuana reform."

In contrast, Colorado has moved quickly on its voter-approved 
recreational marijuana market because the state already had a 
regulated medical marijuana industry, including state-licensed 
cannabis workers and retail outlets and meticulous tracking of marijuana sales.

Over recent months, those regulations have been amended to enable 
existing medical marijuana stores to open up new retail sales areas, 
with separate rooms and entrances, for recreational pot. "We 
immediately decided we needed to recognize the will of the people and 
roll up our sleeves and find a way to effectively, efficiently 
implement the law," said Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for 
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.

Colorado and Washington will allow pot sales only through 
marijuana-specific retailers, much like current dispensaries. So 
recreational users won't be able to pick up their strains of Blue 
Dream, Purple Urkle or Vanilla Kush at the corner liquor store.

Washington is still grappling with how to create regulations for 
existing medical marijuana stores as it is working to implement the 
voter-approved law  Initiative 502  allowing retail sales of 
recreational pot. While state limits under the new law restrict 
Seattle to 21 retail licenses for recreational marijuana, the city is 
already teeming with 200 unregulated medical dispensaries. Those 
stores will have to close - or be licensed  by 2015.

"What we're experiencing is a little bit of growing pains," said 
Alison Holcomb, former director of the Initiative 502 campaign.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom