Pubdate: Thu, 29 Jan 2015
Source: Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: David Downs


California Marijuana Legalization in 2016 Looks Anything but Certain

California marijuana legalization in 2016 looks anything but certain 
after a major January meeting where leading activists showed how 
divided they remain. The possibility of ending nearly a century of 
cannabis prohibition within the next 650 or so days has increased 
factionalism within the reform movement.

In a small hotel banquet room on the waterfront of Oakland's Jack 
London Square, luminaries of pot-law reform rehashed grievances and 
honed new disputes over future initiative language, as well as 
campaign funding and control.

Contrary to headlines, the political reality is grim: a slim majority 
supports legalization in a massive state of 38 million people. 
Support is weakest among voters over 50, women, ethnic groups and in 
rural areas. Legalization lost in 2010 with Proposition 19 and 
reformers were so divided no measure appeared on ballots in either 
2012 or 2014.

Keynote speaker and campaign consultant Bill Zimmerman outlined three 
ways in which legalization can lose in 2016: if proponents demand too 
much, divide into opposing factions or draw in heavily funded opposition.

The main friction points will be initiative language, specifically: 
exactly who will control and profit from a legal market; taxes; 
protections for medical-marijuana patients and dispensaries; the 
right to grow at home and how much; and an age limit of 18 versus 21.

"Our belief about what is right has to be put aside in the interest 
of what is possible," Zimmerman said. That tactical thinking 
alienates many hard-core activists.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk made for an auspicious guest at the event. "I 
am fully in support of legalization," he said. But Quirk was not 
hopeful about action on the issue from the California Legislature.

"The Assembly is very conservative, at least on this issue," he said.

For example, former lawmaker Tom Ammiano's bill to regulate medical 
marijuana failed, and "that was just to regulate medical marijuana," 
Quirk said. "The [California State] Sheriffs' [Association] opposed 
it, and the [California] Police Chiefs [Association]. I think they 
were reckless. We need good legislation, that was good legislation. 
As soon as they opposed it, we just lost a lot of people in the 
Assembly, including a lot of so-called 'progressive Democrats.'"

Meanwhile, another failed 2014 bill, by lawmaker Lou Correa, "was 
basically an anti-medical marijuana bill," he said. "That passed the 
Senate. And then we could not get the pro-medical marijuana 
bill-which had very strict regulations-out of the Assembly, because 
the sheriffs and the police chiefs didn't like it. So I'm not optimistic."

With a statewide vote to legalize marijuana likely on November 8, 
2016, key deadlines are looming for writing and filing a proposed 
law; collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures; turning in those 
signatures to get on the ballot; and then running a winning campaign.

Multiple reform groups will try to run this gantlet. History says 
nearly all of them will fail.

The California Secretary of State's Office suggests July 7 of this 
year as the last day to submit a measure to the state attorney 
general and request an official title and summary. Hitting this 
deadline is a sign of seriousness. It also means that reform groups 
have only about 160 days between now and July 7 to draft, poll, and 
refine the text of what would be a historic law. If reformers fail to 
fully test their ballot language during the next weeks and months, 
it's game over before it even starts.

"It is very soon-that's part of my concern," said Dale Sky Jones, 
chairwoman of ReformCA, a broad coalition that has been growing since 
Proposition 19 failed in 2010, and includes California NORML and the NAACP.

"We want to pass the most ambitious and possible law out there, but 
one word in the title can mess up everything," said Jim Gonzalez, 
political strategist for ReformCA.

We get the first real sense of legalizers' war chest in August, when 
electronic-campaign finance reports become available for the 
reporting period of January through June 30 (due by July 31). Leading 
groups such as ReformCA, Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy 
Alliance and others must show fundraising momentum to pay for 
signatures, staff and ads.

"Early money is like yeast-it makes the bread rise," Jones said. "It 
is the most important money."

A winning initiative campaign could cost a half-a-million dollars 
just to pay for professional signature gatherers (volunteers can't do 
it). A campaign would then need another $10 million for full 
operations and advertising without major opposition. With opposition, 
the price tag grows to anywhere from $15 million to $20 million. And 
those are costs that no single reform group can bear.

A well-oiled, on-time campaign should kick off its signature 
gathering by Labor Day. Campaigns have 180 days from the day Attorney 
General Kamala Harris issues her title and summary to collect the 
necessary signatures. Collecting signatures has never been easier, 
though, said Joe Trippi, veteran campaign manager for Howard Dean and 
Jerry Brown, who is also working with ReformCA.

The number of valid signatures needed to qualify an initiative is 
equal to at least 8 percent of the total votes cast for governor in 
the last gubernatorial election. Luckily for pot-law reformers, the 
2014 California election had one of the lowest voter turnouts of all 
time-the worst since 1978: just 7.3 million-or 42.2 percent of 
California's eligible voters-voted. In the 2010 governor's race, by 
contrast, 10 million voters cast ballots.

That means activists have to get 585,407 valid signatures for the 
2016 election, rather than of hundreds of thousands more. With 
signatures costing about $1 each to gather, voter apathy in 2014 just 
made pot legalization several hundred thousand dollars cheaper.

"It's ridiculous. There's almost no barrier [to getting onto the 
ballot]," Trippi said. "I've been working in the state since 1975, 
and I've never seen it like this."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom