Pubdate: Thu, 22 Oct 2015
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


Big donors, led by former Facebook president Sean Parker, are lining 
up to fund a 2016 California initiative to legalize marijuana for 
recreational use.

But behind the scenes, legalization efforts are splitting California 
marijuana advocates with national drug-policy groups over such things 
as including initiative language to protect marijuana users from job 
discrimination or over how tightly to restrict pot cultivation or 
cannabis industry operations.

With billionaires now readying to fund legalization efforts, some 
cannabis activists fear they will be left on the sidelines on an 
issue they pioneered and elevated to political relevance.

Parker, supported by other would-be major funders, has hired 
Sacramento political consultant Gale Kaufman and the capital 
political law firm Olson Hagel & Fishburn to draft a 2016 initiative 
and lead the marijuana legalization effort, according to five sources 
affiliated with cannabis advocacy groups or the marijuana industry.

Kaufman and Olson Hagel senior partner Lance Olson declined to return 
calls for comment, and Parker couldn't be reached.

In the cannabis community, the Parker effort is considered the most 
likely to reach the ballot due to its financial clout alone. 
Marijuana advocacy groups such as Reform California and the Drug 
Policy Alliance, which until now have been pursuing initiatives of 
their own, are uncertain over what influence  if any  they will have 
on the 2016 measure.

Besides Parker, a billionaire tech executive who co-founded the 
file-sharing music service Napster, other likely initiative investors 
include wealthy heirs to the Hyatt hotel chain and Progressive 
insurance, according to multiple sources.

Previously, Justin Hartfield, an Irvine venture capitalist who 
founded Weedmaps Media, a website and mobile app that guides 
consumers to marijuana dispensaries, put up $1 million on April 20 
for a separate committee backing legalization efforts. Hartfield also 
donated another $1 million to support marijuana-friendly political candidates.

Yet disputes persist between political camps over how broadly or 
narrowly to set marijuana market rules for California, which already 
boasts America's largest pot economy with medical marijuana alone.

A coalition called Reform California, whose partners include many 
long-standing California marijuana advocates, is backing its own 
initiative to legalize possession of an ounce of pot and personal 
cultivation of 100 square feet of marijuana for adult recreational use.

The Reform initiative also proposes a tiered taxation system on the 
marijuana supply line from cultivation to retail sales. It also would 
require voter approval for city or county bans on marijuana 
dispensaries and other cannabis businesses, a step considered 
worrisome for some local government advocates.

The group says it has amassed an 80,000-name crowd-funding list of 
small donors and some unspecified larger donors, but acknowledges it 
had hoped to work with Parker or similar major financial players.

A national group, the Drug Policy Alliance, differs with Reform 
California over marijuana industry and cultivation rules as well as 
over initiative language on anti-discrimination protections for 
workers who have doctor's recommendations for medical marijuana or 
use marijuana during nonworking hours.

There is certainly friction for a variety of reasons. Some of it has 
to do with content. Some of it has to do with approach.

Lynne Lyman, Drug Policy Alliance

Meanwhile, early drafts of initiative language from the Parker group 
seen as too restrictive by some Reform California advocates  have 
added to tensions, according to people familiar with the different camps.

"We have all been in negotiations with each other both separately and 
independently," said Dale Sky Jones, the chairwoman of the Reform 
California campaign, who said she has personally spoken with Kaufman 
as well as representatives for Parker. "It's currently a disjointed 
effort. We are still talking and trying to find a path to one initiative."

Reform California has hired Sacramento political strategist Jim 
Gonzalez, who managed the campaign for California's 1996 Proposition 
215 medical marijuana initiative. Also working with the group is Joe 
Trippi, who ran the presidential campaign of former Vermont Gov. 
Howard Dean in 2004.

The Drug Policy Alliance has been privately circulating a proposed 
California legalization initiative of its own but hasn't submitted a 
measure for the ballot. The group, funded by liberal philanthropist 
George Soros, helped lead Oregon's 2014 successful recreational 
marijuana initiative and backed winning 2012 legalization votes in 
Colorado and Washington.

Lynne Lyman, the Drug Policy Alliance's California state director, 
said the DPA still hopes to influence efforts by "the funders' 
group," including Parker, so that a consensus initiative may emerge. 
But that prospect is far from certain.

"There is certainly friction for a variety of reasons," Lyman said. 
"Some of it has to do with content. Some of it has to do with 
approach. For DPA, it's primarily a social justice issue: This is 
about rolling back the war on drugs and reducing the hardships for 
people of color" from unequal marijuana enforcement.

She added: "Other people are more concerned about industry issues. 
It's not trivial that we all come from different approaches and areas 
of priority."

According to sources, other would-be donors aligning with the Parker 
Group include New Approach PAC, a Washington, D.C.-based political 
action committee tied to the family of late billionaire Peter Lewis, 
former chairman of Progressive Corp. New Approach PAC was a major 
campaign contributor to Oregon's Measure 91 recreational marijuana 
initiative in 2014.

Also part of the effort are investment executives Joby and Nicholas 
Pritzker, descendants of the Hyatt Hotels founder. Joby Pritzker has 
been a board member for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Previously, Hartfield of Weedmaps announced his cash infusion into 
the recreational marijuana cause in April with the formation of a 
political action committee called Californians for Sensible Reform.

In his April 20 statement, he said he was putting his money behind "a 
generational cause and an economic imperative ... to get this 
billion-dollar industry out of the shadows and to fully monitor it 
and regulate it."

The Parker group is said to be working on an initiative that seeks to 
appeal to a broader audience than constituencies of marijuana 
advocacy or business interests. Their effort follows a July report by 
a Commission on Marijuana Policy headed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that 
he said he hoped would influence authors of marijuana legalization measures.

The commission's 93-page policy document didn't spell out specific 
regulations or taxes on recreational marijuana. But it expressed 
support for "a new licensed market" for small and midsize cannabis 
businesses so that "the industry and regulatory system are not 
dominated by large, corporate interests."

When the report was released, Newsom said he would "work hard" to 
defeat any marijuana initiative he sees "as looking to capitalize on 
the next California Gold Rush."

Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said he saw recent ballot language for 
the initiative expected to be funded by the Parker group. After 
helping draft the Reform California initiative, Gieringer said he 
disliked the measure's marijuana industry governing plan and said it 
fell short in rolling back criminal penalties for marijuana and in 
protecting medical cannabis users. "We have issues with it," he said.

The frictions worry many marijuana advocates, who blame intense 
divisions within the cannabis community for helping defeat a previous 
legalization measure, Proposition 19, in 2010. "I think we can ill 
afford to lose another election we should win," said Steve DeAngelo, 
executive director of Oakland's Harborside Heath Center medical 
marijuana dispensary and an influential California advocate.

Until Parker apparently decided to take his checkbook in a different 
direction, Reform California sought to position itself as the group 
with the broadest political support to lead the initiative effort.

The Reform California coalition includes Richard Lee, a former 
Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur who bankrolled Proposition 19 
effort in 2010. Its initiative emerged after months of meetings with 
California labor and cannabis advocacy groups as well as the state 
NAACP, whose president, Alice Huffman, endorsed the measure.

But the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, which also 
participated in general policy discussions, notably walked away after 
Reform California filed the actual measure.

"Now everybody is waiting to see what the Weedmaps guy and Sean 
Parker are going to come up with," said Omar Figueroa, a Sebastopol 
attorney for medical marijuana businesses. "This is a time of uncertainty."

Figueroa is supporting two other legalization initiatives that have 
been submitted for the 2016, including one led by Dave Hodges, a 
former operator of the All-American Cannabis Club dispensary in San Jose.

Meanwhile, Gieringer, who said other initiatives may still emerge, 
said he expects "there is going to be discussion and negotiations and 
probably some polling done" before ballot language is settled.

"Hopefully, people will agree. I suspect they won't," Gieringer said. 
"And I think the funders will make a choice."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom