Pubdate: Sun, 28 Jun 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Steven Greenhut


Sacramento - Regardless of one's take on the Supreme Court's 5-4 
decision on Friday forbidding states from banning same-sex marriage, 
it's clear the ruling didn't come in a vacuum.

Analysts said the court "created" a new civil right, but public 
attitudes have shifted dramatically in recent years. The court simply 
gave its blessing to a cultural change that already has taken place.

We see another long-in-the-making social change on the issue of 
marijuana. A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California 
found 55 percent of likely California voters in favor of legalizing 
weed for recreational uses. Support for such an idea was barely 
perceptible decades ago.

But courts and legislatures usually lag far behind changing public 
perceptions. California legalized the use of medical marijuana with 
Proposition 215 in 1996.

But as this column reported recently, the state still hasn't figured 
out a simple way for dispensaries to pay their taxes (they are banned 
from having bank accounts, but the Board of Equalization usually 
doesn't accept cash). This year's Legislature may finally create a 
"licensing and regulatory framework" for medical marijuana (AB 266), 
nearly two decades later. Meanwhile, the public has moved beyond 
"medical" marijuana.

In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters approved legalization for 
adults and in the 2014 midterm elections voters did the same in 
Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. There are plans for initiatives 
in seven other states in 2016.

Legalization supporters have filed a few different initiatives in 
California - but none are likely to cause consternation among drug 
warriors because they may not have sufficient financial backing.

I attended a meeting of legalization heavy hitters recently in 
Sacramento. Going under the name of Reform California, this group is 
trying to agree on a "unity" initiative that not only satisfies the 
diverse group of legalization supporters, but is careful enough to 
win a statewide election. "Politics is the art of the possible," said 
Jim Gonzalez, a senior adviser. "The California electorate is still 
very cautious." He wants to make sure the language is palatable to 
assuage any fears it will turn California into Amsterdam.

But there's no doubt we're seeing a "cannabis revolution," he adds, 
as public support grows. Gonzalez compares himself to Rip van Winkle: 
He was campaign manager for Proposition 215 and now he's involved in 
this effort again - but finds himself in a far-different political climate.

Reform California hasn't issued ballot language, but its website 
details some general principles. Any initiative must provide 
protection for existing medical marijuana patients, make adult use of 
marijuana legal in limited amounts, allow a limited right to 
cultivate it, create a uniform tax system - while preventing sales to 
minors and combating drugged driving.

The group is waiting to see the fate of AB 266 given that any changes 
in marijuana-related law would need to be addressed in its ballot 
language. Supporters also are waiting for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a 
legalization supporter, to issue in early July the final report from 
the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy.

The commission's progress report, released in March, listed many 
thorny issues that need to be resolved. For instance, it addressed 
testing for drugged driving: "THC, the main psychoactive agent in 
marijuana, is fat-soluble and can remain in the body and blood for a 
long time.... A strict system that penalizes drivers based on THC 
levels in the blood could have the unintended impact of penalizing 
drivers who are not impaired."

California voters were asked to legalize marijuana in 2010. But 
Proposition 19 would have "created a patchwork system where marijuana 
would only be legalized by city or county," explained Dale Gieringer, 
director of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws). A person could leave San Francisco with a legal 
product - and face felony charges a mile away in San Mateo County.

Nevertheless, that flawed initiative garnered nearly 47 percent of 
the vote. We'll see what happens, but I'll return to the gay marriage 
analogy - the battle already is over. It's just a matter of time 
before the political and legal systems recognize it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom