By Chris Conrad, West Coast Leaf
The Secretary of State confirmed March 24 that the Control and Tax Cannabis initiative will be on the Nov. 2, 2010 ballot, the first non-medical use initiative to qualify in the state since the 1972 California Marijuana Initiative. The mere fact of cannabis being up for a vote with a slim majority of support among CA voters has stoked national and international media discussion of how legal adult cannabis use is to be regulated in the future.
The campaign is garnering a growing string of endorsements, which already includes the CA NAACP, political and union leaders, Oakland City Council, economists, and most cannabis reform groups. It is forming coalitions of physicians, attorneys, faith leaders and organizations, who are generating support for the initiative amongst their constituents.
Vocal opposition is led by lobbyist and spokesperson for the California Peace Officers Assn, John Lovell. The typical lineup of law enforcement, MADD, drug rehab companies, career politicians and fringe religious groups are coalescing under the banner, ‘Public Safety First,’ headed by the ‘No On Prop 5’ strategist Wayne Johnson.They have vowed to block the initiative, as have some dealers and illicit growers, so it is expected to be a close vote.
Campaign spokesperson Dale Clare said that Oaksterdam University founder and initiative sponsor Richard Lee made sure the measure protects existing medical use laws, winning the strong support of advocates and co-proponent Jeff Jones of the Patient ID Center, who opened an Oakland dispensary in 1996 then fought and lost a case at the US Supreme Court in 2001 based on medical necessity.
The initiative is a conservative proposal that allows adults 21 years or older to possess or share up to an ounce and have a very small personal garden. It tightens penalties on sales to minors and creates a framework for localities to regulate and tax commercial sales to adults, with the potential of raising billions of dollars in revenue to offset the state budget cuts.
As in all campaigns, fundraising will play a major role in determining the outcome of the election. The TaxCannabis 2010 team estimates that they will need to raise $10 to $20 million for the statewide effort to win in November.
Being a mid-term election, getting out the vote among the cannabis constituency will be essential to passage of the measure.
With just one month to go before California voters decide the fate of Prop 19, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that puts those possessing small amounts of the cannabis at essentiallythe same level offense as for speeding. Under SB 1449 possession of up to an ounce is still punishable by a $100 fine, but offenders would not be arrested or risk having a criminal record.
"In this time of drastic budget cuts, prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket," said Schwarzenegger in a statement Oct. 1 that accompanied his signing of the new law. The governor cast the bill's effect as largely administrative. Nonetheless, reform groups applauded changing possession from a misdemeanor crime to an infraction, the lowest level of offense under state law.
The measure gives disenfranchised voters a very good reason to show up and vote in November, regardless of what political candidates have to offer..
People with marijuana felony convictions have a right to vote in California once they released from prison are off parole, and after the law changes many will be able to petition to clear their records.
By Dale Gieringer, California NORML director
Article courtesy of West Coast Leaf, a quarterly newspaper for the cannabis community
The California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee held historic hearings on cannabis legalization Oct. 28, 2009 for the first time since cannabis was prohibited in 1913.
Sponsor Tom Ammiano (D-SF) chaired the first Committee hearings on AB390, which will be heard again in early 2010. Reformers argued that cannabis prohibition has failed, while law enforcement responded with claims that the problems caused by prohibition would be made all the worse by legal regulations. Sara Simpson, assistant chief of the Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, at one point bewailed the evils of outlaw growers and violent Mexican drug gangs, then voiced concerns that legalization would somehow tighten their grip on California.
Retired Judge James Gray responded that a legal supply will undercut the criminal market and protect children from exposure to crime. Judge Gray spoke against allowing promotion and advertising. Former San Francisco DA Terence Hallinan testified that pot arrests had taken up a lot of time in his office, despite the city’s cannabis-friendly reputation. Dan MacAllair of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice testified that possession arrests have soared while other arrests declined, indicating increased emphasis on marijuana enforcement.
California NORML director Dale Gieringer said, “California’s millions of marijuana users are tired of being criminals and would like to be taxpaying, law-abiding citizens. He pointed to successful models of legal controls in the Netherlands and India before 1986 (testimony online at canorml.org/APStestimony.pdf). The Rev. Mary Moreno Richardson testified about her experience working with battered wives, who were frequently beaten by drunken husbands but never by those using cannabis. In contrast, law enforcement exposed its bigotry. “Marijuana radically diminishes our society, testified John Standish, president of the California Peace Officers Assn. (POA), who refused to distinguish between pot and methamphetamine.
Scott Kirkland, the grim Police Chief of El Cerrito who chairs the Cal Police Chief Assn. Task Force on Medical Marijuana, spewed half-baked distortions and factoids about cannabis, relying on a so-called "White Paper" that is so flawed that the City Council that requested the report ultimately rejected it as being completely unreliable. Sally Fairchild, of the AG’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking office, led off with a moment of silence for DEA agents who were shot down in Afghanistan “protecting us from drugs. Attorneys Allen Hopper of the ACLU and Tara Todd of the DPA debated with Martin Mayer of the POA over whether California can legalize cannabis without there first being changes in federal law.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimated that legalization would save the state “tens of millions of dollars in enforcement costs, while the Board of Equalization estimated that a $50 per ounce excise tax could generate $1.4 billion in tax revenues. Economist Rosalie Pacula of the RAND Corporation cautioned that all projections about revenues, supply and demand draw from highly uncertain assumptions, making it impossible to predict the impact. Dozens of witnesses from both sides spoke up in public comment. Phil Smith of DRCNet wound up the hearing by saying he wants only to be left alone, and will gladly pay taxes in return. After the hearings, reformers visited legislative offices to lobby for AB 390.
Ammiano’s bill would provide for licensed producers and distributors, who could sell to adults over 21. Producers would pay an excise tax of $50 per ounce, just under $1 per half-gram cigarette. Sales taxes would generate additional revenues, bringing total tax revenues to $1 billion. Additional economic benefits would be generated in the form of employment, business and payroll taxes and spin-off industries, like the wine industry, amounting to some $12 - $18 billion.
Last but not least, the bill would save hundreds of millions of dollars in costs for arrest, prosecution and imprisonment of cannabis offenders.
State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee spoke in support of AB 390, saying that it would save the state’s taxpayers some $1.3 billion. California NORML supplied economic analysis for the bill, provided the bill’s text from a draft donated by former State Senator John Vasconcellos, and also provides information about the bill at canorml.org.
Also endorsing the Ammiano bill are Oakland City Council member Rebecca Kaplan, Judge James Gray, San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project.
Assembly Bill 390 would not alter state medical marijuana laws. Patients and collectives could grow for their own supply without paying any excise tax. Non-medical growers would be allowed to grow up to ten plants for personal use.
Despite the increased taxes, the bill’s sponsors expect the price of cannabis would decline sharply due to decreased pressure from law enforcement. This is the first legalization bill to be introduced since state outlawed cannabis or “Indian hemp” in 1913. Since then, millions of Californians have come to enjoy cannabis, despite some 2.4 million arrests.
Although support for legalization is growing, there is little expectation that Ammiano’s bill will be signed this year. Gov. Schwarzenegger has blindly vetoed bills opposed by law enforcement, which strongly supports the status quo. “The last thing our society needs is yet more legal intoxicants,” whined John Lovell, chief lobbyist for the Narcotics Officers’ Assn.
A major political obstacle to the bill is that it flies in the face of current federal law. Supporters hope this can be overcome. “The final architecture of the bill has yet to be defined,” said Ammiano in a Feb. 25 interview on CBC’s As It Happens. “Accommodation is possible. It’s possible that laws may not be the same in a year or two.”
Californians should contact their legislators to support AB 390; for info, see canorml.org.