Pubdate: Sun, 21 Aug 2016
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2016 Los Angeles Times
Author: Dennis Romero
Note: Dennis Romero Is a Staff Writer for the L.A. Weekly WHO Has 
Been Covering Marijuana Laws Since 2009.


Californians first threatened to legalize recreational marijuana by 
ballot initiative in 1972. It failed 66% to 33%. We tried again in 
2010. It was voted down 53% to 46%.

Now we're back at it. This time, though Proposition 64 looks like a 
sure thing. Polls show support for legalization in general at 55%, 
and 60% among likely voters. What's so different this time around?

Yes, demographics and attitudes have shifted here, like everywhere. 
But you also have to understand what went wrong back in 2010. At the 
time, California - the state that pioneered pot for the people - 
seemed poised to become the first state to legalize recreational 
marijuana, but the cause was unexpectedly hurt by the state's 
convoluted history with medical marijuana.

When medical marijuana was legalized here by ballot initiative in 
1996, it was groundbreaking - but the law itself left many unanswered 
questions: How would pot be sold to patients? How would the state 
regulate those sales? State legislation, SB 420, tried to sort that 
out, but it left sellers even more confused. Were dispensaries 
allowed to profit? The guy who wrote the law, late state Sen. John 
Vasconcellos, said sure. Others, including former L.A. City Attorney 
Carmen Trutanich, said medical weed had to be a nonprofit enterprise. 
The rules and enforcement issues weren't fully worked out until last 
year, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation 
and Safety Act.

Meanwhile, cities including Los Angeles struggled to keep a lid on 
hundreds of new dispensaries opening during the period of regulatory 
chaos. By 2010, years of problems policing and monitoring medical 
sales had taken a toll on the credibility of pro-pot activists.

It became clear that if pot legalization was going to attract 
majority support, any ballot initiative was going to have to be about 
more than the freedom to get high. It was going to have to delve into 
the details about how this was all going to work. And proponents were 
going to have to step up their political game. They did.

Six years ago, Proposition 19 was a oneman-band of an initiative run 
by Oakland cannabis entrepreneur Richard Lee. Today's effort, 
Proposition 64, by contrast, is so professional it scares some 
old-school marijuana activists. Even some promarijuana groups are 
uncomfortable with how the measure is written to appeal to 
law-and-order voters.

For instance, Proposition 64 would have the state establish a Bureau 
of Medical Marijuana Regulation in the Department of Consumer Affairs 
to police the industry. Taxes of 15% at the cash register would pay 
for that agency and benefit police. The law also allows cities like 
Los Angeles to continue to limit or ban dispensaries, recreational or not.

"It's 60% legalization," Ellen Komp, deputy director of California 
NORML, has said.

But that might be just the right amount for California voters.

The Yes on 64 campaign has been endorsed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and 
the California NAACP. It is so sophisticated that it has a Latino 
outreach arm. Amid threats last year that rival marijuana groups 
might put competing measures on the ballot in November, Yes on 64 
cleared the field and got most pro-pot soldiers to fall in line. It 
has raised nearly $8.5 million, including $2.5 million from former 
Facebook President Sean Parker. Voters may, for the first time, see 
pro-legalization campaign advertisements.

The opposition, meanwhile, has raised only $163,370, and its campaign 
is relying on old scare-tactic arguments: Legalization will expose 
more teens to marijuana, bring pot stores to every corner, or allow 
pot ads on TV.

The No on 64 crowd also asserts the initiative is a scheme to allow 
Parker and his ilk to create Big Tobacco-style pot companies. It's 
true the measure would allow vertically integrated enterprises - from 
the farm to the pot shop - but not before 2023. And large producers 
would not be allowed to merge, according to the Drug Policy 
Alliance's reading of the ballot language. The authors of Proposition 
64 have thought through the details this time.

It wasn't just California's pot activists that learned from the loss 
in 2010. Stephen Gutwillig, then the state director of Drug Policy 
Alliance, said in 2010 that Proposition 19 "moved marijuana 
legalization into the mainstream of American politics."

Indeed, it set the stage for Colorado to legalize recreational weed 
in 2012. Oregon, Washington and Alaska followed. That moved the 
spotlight off California for a few years, but also gave voters here a 
picture of what orderly legalization could look like.

Once Proposition 64 passes, expect things to move quickly. California 
is the nation's No. 1 cannabis producer, and there's already a pot 
economy here. Just last summer, the state Board of Equalization 
estimated that there were 935 medical pot dispensaries already 
operating in the city of Los Angeles. That's more than twice the 
number (440) of licensed recreational shops in the entire state of Colorado.

California's ready to lead the green rush again.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom