Pubdate: Fri, 17 Jul 2015
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson


The march to bring marijuana legalization before California voters in 
2016 ramped up Thursday with the announcement by a group of longtime 
Bay Area cannabis advocates that they have hired heavy-hitting 
Democratic political strategists and plan to release a draft of the 
proposed initiative in the coming weeks.

Santa Rosa-based attorney Joe Rogoway is part of a team with the 
Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform that is crafting an initiative 
under a project dubbed ReformCA, backed by California NORML - the 
state branch of the national marijuana reform group - that would 
create a framework for a "robust set of regulations" to legalize 
cannabis for use by adults while maintaining regulations already in 
place for medical use.

"We're going to have strict licensing criteria, and we're going to be 
able to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for the state based 
on the model we want to put in place," said Rogoway, a lead attorney 
for the coalition.

If filed, ReformCA's proposal could be the most ambitious and 
well-funded of the various pot legalization measures to make a run at 
the 2016 ballot.

Seven proposed initiatives that seek to legalize marijuana already 
have been filed with the state Attorney General's Office.

The crowded playing field has created mixed alliances. Santa Rosa 
attorney Omar Figueroa, who defends clients facing criminal charges 
involving marijuana, has given his support - in the form of a 
signature - to four of the initiatives. Another initiative drafted by 
the California NAACP is signed by its president, Alice Huffman, who 
is also on the board of directors with the Coalition for Cannabis 
Policy Reform and reportedly is also backing ReformCA.

ReformCA's initiative, if filed, brings the number to eight; however, 
it is likely many will be abandoned as cannabis supporters combine efforts.

David McCuan, political science professor at Sonoma State University, 
said that during this early phase of the initiative process, it is 
common to see many competing initiatives, especially ones dealing 
with major issues of the day. The cost of filing with the state is only $200.

The more daunting task, and the next major challenge for many of the 
marijuana proposals, is the need to gather signatures in order to 
qualify for the ballot. A statewide proposal must secure 365,880 
valid signatures, and McCuan said the signature-gathering process 
typically costs $2 million to $4 million.

Still, California voters likely will face between 15 and 30 
initiatives in November of next year and several of those are bound 
to involve legalizing marijuana, McCuan said. That showdown could 
sink them all, he suggested.

"When voters are faced with multiple choices, they generally vote no 
and maintain the status quo," McCuan said.

ReformCA has hired political consultant and Fox News commentator Joe 
Trippi, who advised the campaigns of Gov. Jerry Brown and former 
presidential candidates Howard Dean and John Edwards. Trippi has been 
credited with creating the "digital army" concept of raising money 
through many small, individual donations while a consultant with Dean.

ReformCA already has raised about $500,000 through its network of 
about 70,000 supporters in California, said Dale Sky Jones, coalition 
chairwoman and executive chancellor at Oaksterdam University, a 
school that prepares people for careers in the cannabis industry and 
doubles as a hub for cannabis activism.

On a Thursday morning conference call, Jones announced that the 
coalition has hired Progressive Campaigns Inc. to gather signatures 
in support of the initiative, a process that is expected to begin this fall.

Jones said that they plan to raise about $4 million through a base of 
individual donors during the campaign. In addition, Jones said they 
are hoping to announce larger sources of support and financing next 
week. She estimated the campaign will cost $10 million to $14 million.

ReformCA also has brought on Jim Gonzalez, a political strategist who 
helped manage the 1996 Proposition 215 initiative that legalized 
medical marijuana in California. Gonzalez served on the San Francisco 
Board of Supervisors in the 1980s.

Hezekiah Allen, the executive director of the Emerald Growers 
Association, said that his members were not ready to endorse the 
ReformCA plan. Allen said he's waiting to see if other heavy-hitting 
organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance also launch their own 
effort to legalize marijuana. He said his members are particularly 
focused on protecting small growers and promoting sustainable 
environmental practices.

"Ending the failed war on drugs is too important for politics as 
usual," Allen said. "That's why we're waiting at this point. We 
absolutely will not be making an endorsement any time soon."

Most statewide law enforcement groups have not taken a stance on the 
pot legalization proposals. That could change if and when they 
qualify for the ballot. In 2010, all of the major state law 
enforcement groups opposed Proposition 19, the last, failed 
ballot-box effort to legalize recreational marijuana.

Sarah Shrader, Sonoma County chairwoman for Americans for Safe 
Access, which advocates to safeguard medicinal cannabis use, said 
that although the group's members have consulted with ReformCA and 
others, they will not endorse a ballot measure to legalize marijuana 
for general use because their organization focuses on medicinal pot use.

The group will push to ensure that any initiatives do not make it 
harder for people with illnesses to secure cannabis for medical 
purposes, Shrader said.

"We're paying attention," she said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom