Pubdate: Wed, 19 Nov 2014
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Column: Legalization Nation
Copyright: 2014 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


After the historic marijuana midterms, a seven-hundred-day battle for 
the Golden State begins.

As the dust settles from the historic marijuana midterm election of 
2014, a few things have become clear: Namely, Californians will vote 
on ending cannabis prohibition in 2016. But change is far from inevitable.

The decisive cannabis-legalization victories in Oregon, Alaska, and 
Washington, DC, on November 4 continued the trend established by 
voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012. The hat trick in this 
year's midterm election also guarantees that the most experienced, 
successful groups - Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) and Drug Policy 
Alliance (DPA) - will work to legalize pot in California in 2016.

A loose alliance has formed that includes MPP, DPA, California NORML, 
and the still-vital coalition left over from Proposition 19 in 2010 - 
now dubbed Reform CA. Reform CA includes the NAACP, Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, and segments of the California cannabis 
industry, such as the Emerald Growers Association.

MPP Legislative Analyst Chris Lindsey said the group is in the early 
stages of staffing up. "MPP is going to be one of many organizations 
involved in this," he said. "California is too big for this to be a 
one-organization effort."

In Oakland, Reform CA's Dale Jones said the coalition could need $10 
million to run a successful ballot measure in 2016, and is currently 
working to grow its 45,000-strong, active email list. Reform CA 
donation boxes should start popping up at Oakland, San Francisco, and 
Los Angeles dispensaries this December, she said. "Our goal is to 
have a California that is educated and ready vote in 2016 - and ready 
to donate before that," she said.

California will be a gargantuan lift for even the biggest coalition. 
With 38 million people, the state is 5.5 times bigger than the 
biggest legalization state so far - Washington, which has a 
population of 6.9 million. "People don't realize the massive scale of 
the undertaking we're talking about," Jones said. "I am concerned for 
money. California could be the state that draws organized opposition. 
We need to be ready for that."

But California, not Washington, got the ball rolling in 1996, noted 
Dale Gieringer of California NORML. "And we have the biggest 
[cannabis] industry."

Polls show that a slim majority of state voters support ending 
prohibition. But legalization is less popular among older Democrats, 
women, minorities, and traditional conservatives.

Reformers will face an alliance of cops, bureaucrats, businesses, and 
politicians - not to mention a possible federal reaction.

Between now and 2016, however, new medical marijuana regulations or 
adult-use laws are unlikely to emerge from Sacramento, because the 
political make-up of the legislature did not change that much in the 
midterm election, said Don Duncan, organizer for Americans for Safe Access.

But one significant change that did occur on November 4 was the 
passage of Proposition 47, the "Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes 
Initiative" - which made possession of hashish and small amounts of 
other drugs a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Prop 47 received 59 
percent of the vote in an election in which many young Democratic 
voters stayed away from the polls. That fact buoyed reformers.

The list of opponents to Prop 47 read like a primer on the 
prison-industrial complex. It was stacked with fearmongering 
"victims' rights" groups, county sheriffs associations, district 
attorneys, correctional supervisors, and drug court professionals - 
in addition to US Senator Dianne Feinstein. That same group is 
expected to oppose pot legalization in 2016. Yet, this year, Prop 47 
won in a landslide.

"It shows the gap there is between the centers of power and 
government, and the actual people," Gieringer said. Criminal justice, 
he said, is yet another area in which politicians are captured by the 
industry - the prison-industrial complex, in this case.

And that industry isn't going to go quietly into that good night. 
After Prop 47's passage, opponents took to the media to promise 
increases in crime. "With law enforcement, the sky is always about to 
fall," said Lindsey. "Their bread and butter is keeping people 
scared. Well, voters said, 'We're really just kind of sick of 
spending money on this stuff.'"

The California midterm election also saw more than a dozen local 
pro-medical marijuana initiatives fail in the state - even though 
every proposed medical cannabis tax passed. Going forward, more 
cities and counties will use their right to ban not only 
dispensaries, but also cultivation: both indoors and outdoors. Almost 
half of all California cities now have dispensary bans, said Duncan.

"I keep thinking, 'How can it get much worse?'" said Ellen Komp, 
deputy director for California NORML.

Conversely, cities in the East Bay and beyond will add new 
dispensaries in the next year or two, and a slew of cities, such as 
Santa Ana and San Jose will permit them for the first time.

While the industry is emboldened like never before, federal and local 
raids on growers and stores will also continue in 2015. Deputy 
Attorney General James Cole chided California in an October 16 
article in the Los Angeles Times, stating, "If you don't want us 
prosecuting [marijuana users] in your state, then get your regulatory 
act together." The DEA raided well-known LA collective The Farmacy on 
October 28. Regional task forces also will keep chopping plants and 
busting alleged traffickers in the Emerald Triangle and in Central 
and Southern California.

Despite the headwinds, reformers are moving full-steam ahead, and 
liken past setbacks to the push for marriage equality. "The first 
time out you don't win, but then you get the momentum in your favor," 
Komp said. "I think the train has left the station."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom