Pot measures fail to make November ballot

September 03, 2012

Paul Payne, Press Democrat

A half-dozen initiatives seeking to regulate marijuana like wine, tax it and legalize it for anyone over 18 all failed to make the Nov. 6 ballot, leaving supporters looking to 2014 for their next shot at changing the state's pot laws.

Six measures — including one written by two Sonoma County attorneys — fell short of getting enough signatures by their deadlines. The last, which would have allowed medical marijuana users to form associations for cultivation and distribution, failed last month.

"It's disappointing," said Sebastopol attorney Omar Figueroa, who co-wrote the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012. "California will not be leading the way when it comes to reform."

Now, advocates will watch the results of ballot initiatives in Colorado, Oregon and Washington as well as the outcome of the presidential election before returning to work on a measure to go before California voters in four years.

Also, supporters will look to precedent-setting Supreme Court cases as well as pending state legislation that could change the political landscape for some type of marijuana legalization.

Dale Gierenger, state director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, said this year's measures were doomed by a number of factors, not the least of which was a lack of funds to pay professional signature gatherers.

It can cost $2 million to $3 million to collect the more than 500,000 signatures required within the state's 150-day deadline. With the 2010 failure of the last legalization measure — Proposition 19 — potential donors weren't willing to part with the cash. What little money was available was spread among multiple measures.

"I didn't expect the legalization initiatives to go anywhere," said Gierenger, who backed the so-called California Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Initiative. "It was always a bit of a long shot."

But Gierenger said advocates remain motivated to clarify the law, at a minimum, especially in light of Proposition 19, which got nearly 47 percent of the vote.

"I don't think you can put the genie back in the bottle on this one," Gierenger said.

Just which approach supporters will take remains unclear.

This year's measures ran the gamut from reducing criminal punishment to eliminating all laws pertaining to the cultivation, possession, sale and transportation of marijuana.

One initiative would have taxed and regulated marijuana production similar to the wine industry. Another envisioned a 2.5 percent tax on medical marijuana sales and established a government agency to oversee regulation.

"When it comes down to what's the best solution, there are many options," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group that also supported the NORML-backed medical marijuana measure. "People tend to not agree. That has to be resolved."

Figueroa's measure would have de-criminalized all marijuana for adults.

"Cannabis is in conflict with federal law but the state is absolutely free to repeal prohibition," Figueroa said. "It's exactly how alcohol prohibition was repealed."

But the measure he co-authored with Santa Rosa attorney Joe Rogoway failed to get the more than 504,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot by its April deadline. The initiative got "tens of thousands" of signatures, he said.

Since then, he and other California supporters attended an annual hemp festival in Seattle where talk centered on 2014.

Figueroa cited a poll that found 80 percent of Americans believe medical marijuana should be legal and 50 percent believe all marijuana should be legal.

The latter figure needs to increase to 60 percent to attract big donors, Figueroa said.

"A lot of Californians are waiting to see what happens in the three other states with repeal initiatives," he said. "If those pass, it could change the whole dynamic."

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