Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jul 2015
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Dan Morain


A guy named Philip Morris opened a tobacco shop in London in 1847, or 
so the story goes. When Phil passed on, the widow Margaret Morris 
took over the humble family business.

Today, Philip Morris Inc., also known as Altria, is the world's 
largest cigarette maker and counts revenue of $30 billion a year.

Last week, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and friends issued a 93-page report 
focused on how to go about the highly complex task of marijuana 
legalization. The Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy report, 
the product of numerous hearings and advice from experts, made clear 
that the Phil and Maggie of marijuana should not be allowed to become 
the next Philip Morris.

"We are not supporting a free market. We're supporting a regulated 
market," Newsom told me. "If you think this is the next California 
gold rush, I'm not on that team."

Based on history and economics, Newsom has his work cut out. 
California lawmakers tried to protect gold miners from corporations 
in the 1850s. Soon, corporations perfected the evil art of destroying 
entire mountainsides in search of gold.

After Prohibition ended in 1933, legislators approved laws supposedly 
to combat consolidation. Now, a handful of national and international 
corporations dominate production and distribution of alcoholic 
beverages, and any legislation affecting their interests.

In 2000, California voters authorized Indian tribes to operate 
casinos on their reservations. Now, wealthy tribes determine which 
gambling-related legislation passes and which fails.

Newsom, the one declared candidate for governor in 2018, knows polls 
show that voters, particularly young people, support legalization of 
marijuana. That could help him as he runs in 2018 and beyond. But as 
he further cements himself as the public face of legalization, there 
are plenty of risks, too.

"If you support legalization, you have to own all the problems that 
come with it," said Wayne C. Johnson, a Sacramento consultant who 
stands ready to trip up Newsom. He regularly runs campaigns against 
legalization efforts, including an initiative that failed in 
California in 2010.

The report anticipates that one or more legalization initiatives will 
be on the 2016 ballot, though it doesn't make the case for 
legalization. Instead, the report contains many caveats and warnings. 
Newsom isn't supporting any initiative proposed so far and would 
campaign against measures he thinks are too loaded with 
special-interest provisions. He also says the current system is a 
failure, which is true.

"I could sit back passively and abdicate responsibility, as so many 
politicians do," Newsom said. "Or I could take some damned 
responsibility. I'm glad we're having the conversation now, rather 
than in 2016."

The report says the state must "ensure that small and midsize 
entities, especially responsible actors in the current market, have 
access to the new licensed market, and that the industry and 
regulatory system are not dominated by large, corporate interests."

The report also focuses on the need to keep marijuana out of the 
hands of kids, using the words "youth," "adolescent" and "children" 260 times.

However, the report doesn't suggest banning edible marijuana, 
embedded in baked goods and candy. The Legislature, the report says, 
could regulate the products. Maybe. Or maybe the Legislature would 
fail, as it has done when it tried to ban alcopops, the sweet, fizzy 
booze that is marketed at young people.

Clearly, kids have ready access to marijuana now. That might change 
if it were legalized and regulated. Or maybe we would relive history 
in which the tobacco industry marketed to kids with its Joe Camel 
logo and sponsorship of sports and music concerts, and, more 
recently, by buying into e-cigarettes, favored by teenagers.

"The first, and perhaps most effective policy tool (to limit 
advertising) is shaping the industry's structure itself, 
specifically, creating an industry structure that works to limit the 
size and scale of any one actor. Without very large actors in the 
industry, few, if any, will have the resources for broadcast media 
advertising," the report says.

Such wishful passages read like they're poll-driven, and they probably are.

By leading the commission for the past year and a half, Newsom has 
given it status. But its roots date back a year earlier. Santa Monica 
political consultant Bill Zimmerman started the process of creating 
the commission a year before Newsom took a public role, on behalf of 
his client, the ACLU of Northern California, which advocates legalization.

Zimmerman has run several medical marijuana initiative campaigns, 
including the 1996 effort that legalized medical marijuana in 
California, although he points out he did not help write Proposition 
215, and is critical of its abuses. That bad experience makes it more 
important that legalization be done methodically. A blue ribbon 
commission's imprimatur helps.

If voters approve legalization, the report says, the Legislature and 
next governor will need to spend years deciding fundamental 
questions, refining the system and setting a tax rate.

"I would like to think we would be able to conduct ourselves with 
propriety," Newsom said.

However, the prequel plays out whenever the Legislature's 
governmental organization committees convene and try to regulate 
alcohol, gambling and tobacco.

California is the cradle of the anti-smoking movement, but the 
tobacco industry provides the mother's milk of politics. Lawmakers 
haven't approved a tobacco tax increase since 1993, a 2-cent-per-pack 
tax to fund breast cancer research.

California's wine tax is among the lowest in the nation. Alcohol 
taxes have not been raised since 1991. We who drink wine appreciate 
it. But the point is that legislators don't mess with a favored 
industry's bottom line.

Newsom deserves credit for taking a stand that carries risks, some of 
which won't be known for years if he succeeds. Perhaps I'm being 
paranoid. Maybe corporations won't dominate the business. Maybe 
marijuana lobbyists will be more mellow than tobacco and alcohol 
lobbyists. Or maybe we've been here before, many times.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom