New Marijuana Legalization Initiative Filed; Backers Needed

By Chris Roberts SF Weekly

Multiple efforts to legalize cannabis in California are currently afoot. If you're a registered voter, you may have already signed a petition to put adult recreational use of marijuana on the November 2016 ballot. But very few — if any — of those efforts matter, because very few — and possibly not any — of those efforts have any money or institutional support.

Late Friday, the marijuana legalization effort that "matters" kicked off in earnest when backers of an organization called Reform CA filed their proposed language for the "Control, Regulate, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2016" with the Attorney General's Office.

If the initiative qualifies for the ballot and is approved by voters, adults 21 and over would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis, which would be removed from the state's list of banned substances. Commercial cultivation and sales would be licensed and taxed in a way similar to alcohol, with oversight from a state agency, and individuals would be allowed to grow their own without a license.

But this effort is still lacking something major: money. As much as $20 million may be needed to allow adults legal weed, and so far, the big money players — including Silicon Valley mogul Sean Parker — needed to make legalization a reality are uncommitted.

First, a rundown of the initiative, which was written by a major law firm based off of recommendations from a "Blue Ribbon" panel of experts formed by the ACLU and chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. If approved, it would:
Repeal current state laws prohibiting cannabis possession, cultivation, and sales;

Allow individuals 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of cannabis;

Allow personal grow spaces of up to 100 square feet;

Allow for sales, "regulate[d] in a manner consistent with the sales of alcohol,";

Allow medical marijuana operators currently in business an easy path to acquiring an adult recreational license;

Leave intact and untouched medical marijuana activity, including the commercial licensing structure for the medical cannabis industry approved by the Legislature last month that's currently awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown's signature.
The state recreational marijuana industry would be overseen by a state commission, of which the lieutenant governor — in this case, pro-legalization Newsom — would serve as chair.

Marijuana would be "regulated in a manner consistent with other legal agricultural products in the state," and a system of tiered licenses would hopefully ensure that "the industry and regulatory system are not dominated by large, corporate interests."

The initiative also makes medical marijuana law even stronger. Bans of medical marijuana activity would only be allowed by voter initiative, which would undo many dispensary bans here in the Bay Area.

Reform CA is chaired by Dale Sky Jones, who also served as chairwoman of 2010's Prop. 19. That legalization effort was defeated, 53.5 percent no to 46.5 percent yes, but paved the way for successful legalization efforts in other states. Jones's co-proponent on the legalization measure is Alice Huffman, president of the state NAACP.

Other members of Reform CA include representatives from California NORML, the California Cannabis Industry, and medical marijuana patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

Not included right now are former board members involved with the Drug Policy Alliance and with the Marijuana Policy Project.

The DPA, with major funding from the late Peter Lewis, chairman of Progressive Auto Insurance, has funded other major drug reform efforts, like legalization in Washington state, and MPP was pivotal in Colorado. Those states both legalized adult recreational, non-medical marijuana in 2012.

Before Friday's filing, DPA representatives were noncommittal and talked about going off on their own with a "plan b," according to LA Weekly. An earlier draft of a proposed legalization initiative, which made the rounds around Labor Day, was a working DPA draft.

Reform CA's Jones told SF Weekly this weekend that she hopes to convince DPA to back this effort — which would be even easier to do if other big-money backers hopped on board. Currently, there are none.

Lewis's heirs appear also noncommittal, as is Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker, who donated to Prop. 19 in 2010 and is seen as the most likely angel investor in a legalization venture.

Other potential billionaire backers, like George Soros, whose late contribution saved medical marijuana ballot effort Prop. 215 from failure in 1996, have also yet to become involved.

But for now, it's all about the language. Check the 26-page initiative for yourself — and stay tuned.