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CA Marijuana Init Worth Hundreds of Millions Yearly, State Analysts Say

A California Legislative Analyst's Office report released Tuesday estimates that if Proposition 19, the Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative, were to be passed by voters, it could generate "hundreds of millions of dollars a year" in tax revenues in state sales taxes and taxes imposed by counties and municipalities that allowed for taxed and regulated sales and cultivation. Passage of the measure would also lead to reduced costs in state and local law enforcement, courts, and corrections, while not endangering public safety, the report said.

The Legislative Analyst's Office is a non-partisan state agency. Its job is to provide fiscal and policy advice to the state legislature.

The "hundreds of millions of dollars a year" estimate is roughly in line with, although lower than, the State Board of Equalization's estimate that marijuana legalization could bring $1.4 billion a year in taxes and fees in the state. That estimate was based not on Proposition 19, but on an Assembly bill introduced by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would have allowed for direct state taxation of marijuana. Under Prop 19, only cities and counties would have the ability to tax and regulate marijuana sales and cultivation -- although the state could, of course, collect a sales tax on anything sold in the state.

"Proposition 19 allows local governments to authorize, regulate, and tax various commercial marijuana-related activities," the report noted. "As discussed below, the state also could authorize, regulate, and tax such activities... we estimate that the state and local governments could eventually collect hundreds of millions of dollars annually in additional revenues."

The report warned, however, that firm estimates were hard to come by because of uncertainties, particularly those surrounding how the federal government would respond to California cities or counties moving forward to tax and regulate recreational marijuana sales.

With California laying off and furloughing state workers, and with California cities and counties doing the same with teachers, firefighters, and police officers because of ongoing budget crises, the Legislative Analyst's Office report is bound to become ammunition for Prop 19 supporters.

Oregon Medical Marijuana Dispensary Initiative Makes Ballot

Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown announced last Friday that an initiative campaign to allow state licensed medical marijuana dispensaries had handed in enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot. An initiative that would impose mandatory minimum sentences on repeat felony sex offenders and drunk drivers also qualified for the ballot.
marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
The dispensary initiative, I-28, would amend the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act to mandate that the state Department of Human Services license and regulate dispensaries and producers. The dispensaries would be nonprofit and would be allowed to be reimbursed for their production costs. The initiative also contains provisions providing that the department set up a program for low-income patients and that the Department of Human Services conduct research into the efficacy and safety of medical marijuana. Those programs would be funded with fees generated by the medical marijuana program.

Under current Oregon law, patients or caregivers can grow their own, and caregivers can grow for up to four patients. But patient advocates have complained for years that the lack of a dispensary system has meant patients unable or unwilling to grow their own and who do not have a caregiver have had to resort to the black market or go without their medicine.

The initiative isn't officially qualified for the ballot just yet. It will be official on August 1, the deadline for verification of ballot initiatives. While it could theoretically be challenged between now and then, no such challenges have appeared on the horizon.

The initiative will not be known as I-28 on the ballot. It will be assigned a measure number on August 1.

The initiative is sponsored by Voter Power, the same folks who successfully sponsored the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act initiative in 1998.

Greedy Dispensary Owner Opposes Marijuana Legalization

medical marijuana (courtesy Coaster420 and
Via NORML, check out these comments from a medical marijuana businessman who opposes Prop 19:

"I'll give you two reasons," Craig said. "One is big tobacco. Did you know that Phillip Morris just bought 400 acres of land up in Northern California? The minute marijuana becomes legal, they'll mass produce and flood the market. And of course, they'll add the same toxins they put in regular cigarettes to get you addicted, and very little THC, so you'll have to buy more... In short, they're going to ruin weed." He gestured around his beloved shop, with every flavor of every strain, in its purist form, selling for at-cost prices. "I like the way things are now."

I'll bet he does. But while you're making money and having a great time, thousands and thousands of people are being arrested. Conspiracy theories about Phillip Morris don't even begin to justify the war on marijuana, and anyone who advances such mindless speculation – while simultaneously lining their own pockets – is a first-rate jackass.

He even tries to bring children into the debate:

"Two, legalization will mean more fifteen-year-old kids smoking pot. Smoking pot mellows you out, makes you lazy. When you're twenty-one, twenty-five, you can make your own decisions. But California doesn't need its fifteen-year-olds lazier than they already are."

Seriously? Well, let me ask you something, sir. Does your dispensary sell marijuana to 15-year-olds? Do your customers resell your product to young teenagers? I imagine you would insist that this isn't the case, and I can't fathom why you think things would be any different if regulated marijuana retailers were allowed to serve all adults instead of just those with a doctor's recommendation.

Let's not forget: Prop 19 is about so much more than just how marijuana will be grown and distributed. It's about stopping the arrest and persecution of marijuana consumers and reducing the violence and chaos of prohibition. Concerns about how it might affect the market are understandable, but people were nervous about Prop 215 as well, and it's clearly become a miracle for patients and a huge step forward for reform in general.

The bottom line is that anyone who currently sells marijuana in California, medical or otherwise, should be thrilled with the prospect of dramatically reducing arrests for marijuana possession and the vicious consequences that go along with it. All other concerns are secondary to ensuring the freedom of adults to enjoy cannabis without fear of arrest, and Prop 19 will do exactly that. Those who object, those who would fight to continue the war, are enemies of justice. Patients should never purchase medicine from anyone who lobbies to continue the disease of prohibition.

Polls Split on California Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Two California public opinion polls, one released Friday and one released Monday, are at odds as to whether the Tax and Regulate Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative (now known officially as Proposition 19) has the support of Golden State voters. The confused polling results suggest a race that will be very tight.
On Friday, the Field Poll reported that only 44% supported the initiative, while 48% opposed it and 8% were undecided. But that was followed on Monday by a SurveyUSA poll that found 50% supported the initiative, 40% opposed it, and 11% were undecided. (The numbers don't add up because of rounding.)

The sampling margin of error for the SurveyUSA today poll was +/- 4%, while the margin of error for the Field poll was +/- 3.2% overall and +/- 5.5% for its population subsamples. Again, given the small gap between support and opposition and the margin for error, the polling suggests a very tight race indeed.

Proposition 19 would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the growing of a garden of 25 square feet by adults anywhere in California. It would also provide counties and municipalities with the local option to allow, tax, and regulate marijuana sales and production. If it wins in November, it would be the first time the voters of any state have voted to legalize marijuana.

The SurveyUSA poll showed majority support for the initiative among moderates (53%), liberals (69%), college graduates (54%), and people who make less than $40,000 a year (54%) or more than $80,000 a year (53%). The Field poll showed majority support among Democrats (53%), young voters (52%), young whites (53%), and middle aged whites (51%).

There are discrepancies between the two polls, especially when it comes to support by race and by geographic region. The SurveyUSA poll found majority support for the initiative among whites (50%), blacks (52%), and Asians (53%), with only Hispanics (46%) failing to get on board. But the Field poll was significantly lower, especially among non-whites. It showed majority support among no ethnic groups, with support at 48% for whites, 40% for blacks, 33% for Asians, and 36% among Hispanics.

Similarly, the Field poll shows majority support only in the San Francisco Bay area (53%), while the SurveyUSA poll shows majority support there (53%) and in the Greater Los Angeles area (54%). The Field poll had support for the initiative at only 46% in Los Angeles County, 46% in the Inland Empire, and 39% in San Diego County.

There has been some speculation that differences in polling techniques could account for the differences. The SurveyUSA poll is an automatic poll conducted by telephone with automated questions and response prompts, while the Field poll is conducted by a live interviewer. It has been suggested that some respondents may be embarrassed to tell a live interviewer they support legalization.

We are less than four months out now. This is going to get very interesting.

Marijuana Legalization: Oregon, Washington Initiatives Fall Short

They will not be freeing the weed in the Pacific Northwest this November, at least not via ballot measures. Attempts to place marijuana legalization initiatives on the ballot in Oregon and Washington came up short as organizers were unable to gather sufficient signatures by last Friday's deadline.

In Oregon, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, sponsored by Oregon NORML and medical marijuana entrepreneur Paul Stanford, did not come close. It needed about 100,000 signatures, but only had 12,000 at the latest report.

In a message to supporters last Friday, Stanford said: "Unfortunately, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative petition campaign in Oregon has fallen well short of qualifying for a vote this year. To all of you who gathered signatures, donated your hard earned money or supported OCTA 2010 in any way, we thank you for support! We are considering how to proceed in the future. If you have any ideas or concerns, please let us know."

In Washington, Sensible Washington, the sponsors of the I-1068 legalization initiative, conceded last week that they, too, would fail to make the November ballot. They needed 241,000 valid signatures, but estimated they would come up short by 40,000 to 50,000.

"It's my sad duty to inform you all that I-1068 will not make it," Sensible Washington's Philip Dawdy told supporters. "We're going to fall short. So I'm asking you all to stand down immediately, relax, regroup and let's all push on for the future. In the end, we couldn't overcome this spring's awful weather and the ACLU of Washington actively working against I-1068. [Seattle marijuana defense attorney] Douglas [Hiatt] and I and everyone else are all humbled by your efforts. The battle may be lost, but the war goes on."

The ACLU of Washington had refused to endorse the initiative because it contained no provisions for regulating marijuana -- it simply removed marijuana from the state's list of controlled substances and repealed penalties. Sensible Washington argued that Washington law prevented them from addressing regulation and that they sought to avoid conflict between the state and the federal government, but ACLU-WA disagreed.

The initiative suffered another mortal blow last month, when, after a brief courtship, the Service Employees International Union declined to help get it over the top. Washington SEIU spokesman Adam Glickman told Publicola last month the initiative would be "open to a lot of attacks -- attacks around law enforcement issues" and that "losing th[e] campaign wouldn't be very helpful."

[Ed: It's not clear to me why Washington law should have prevented Sensible Seattle from addressing regulation in the initiative text. The Washington medical marijuana initiative which passed in 1998, I-692, contained several pages of regulation, and it qualified for the ballot. Therefore Washington law does not disallow regulation within initiative language. The federal vs. state question is a more interesting one. - DB]

Feature: Race and Reefer -- the African American Vote in California's Marijuana Legalization Initiative

With the clock ticking down toward Election Day in November, both proponents and opponents of California's Control and Tax Cannabis marijuana legalization initiative, now known officially as Proposition 19, are going after the African American vote. As things currently stand, the community is highly supportive of marijuana legalization in principle, but not necessarily of the initiative itself at this time.

A Survey USA poll done in April found that support for marijuana legalization among blacks was at 67%, the highest level of any major ethnic group in the state. Whites were second at 59%, followed by Asians at 58% and Hispanics at 45%. The findings are consistent with other polls that show similar high levels of support for pot legalization in the state's black community.
Bishop Allen and police lobbying last January against the Ammiano legalization bill, Sacramento
But demonstrating that nothing is a given in the wild word of ballot campaigns, a Field Poll released Friday morning showed Prop. 19 slipping from being slightly ahead to slightly behind (44%-48% this time), with African Americans giving it only 40%.

While African Americans constitute only 5.8% of the state's electorate, the November vote is shaping up to be extremely close, and holding onto key constituencies, even relatively small ones, could end up making the difference on Election Day.

Author and political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson is one of those black people who are ready to free the weed. "I fully support legalization," he told the Chronicle. "The drug wars have criminalized a generation of young blacks, destabilized families, further impoverished communities, and wildly expanded the prison-industrial complex. It is costly, wasteful and ineffective. It drains precious tax dollars, public resources, and public policy initiatives from expansion and improvement of health, education, and businesses, social services and urban reconstruction. It's been well documented that for a faction of the billions spent on a racially-tinged wasteful drug war, if spent on skills training, drug counseling, prevention, job creation, and family support programs thousands of lives could be reclaimed."

Legalization backers have been working hard in recent weeks to solidify and even extend such sentiments. At the end of last month, the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) issued a report, Targeting Blacks for Marijuana, demonstrating that African-Americans bear the brunt of marijuana law enforcement in California. The report, authored by Queens College sociologist Harry Levine, examined marijuana arrests in California's 25 most populous counties and found a consistent, statewide pattern of racial disparities in who was getting arrested for pot possession.

Despite blacks using marijuana at a slightly lower rate than whites, blacks were more than three times as likely to be arrested for possession in the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Sonoma, and more than twice as likely to be arrested in Contra Costa, Fresno, Orange, Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernadino, Santa Clara, and Solano counties.

In Los Angeles, blacks make up 10% of the population, but constitute 30% of pot possession busts. In San Diego, blacks are 5.6% of the population, but account for 20% of arrests. In Sacramento, blacks get busted at a rate nearly four times one would expect based on the demographics. They make up 10.4% of the population in the state capital, but account for a whopping 38% of pot possession arrests.

"The findings in this report are a chilling reminder of the day-to-day realities of marijuana prohibition and the large-scale racist enforcement at its core," said Stephen Gutwillig, DPA's California director. "Racial justice demands ending this policy disaster and replacing it with a sensible regulatory system that redirects law enforcement to matters of genuine public safety. Proposition 19 is California's exit strategy from its failed war on marijuana."

"Patrol and narcotics police face enormous pressure to meet arrest and ticket quotas. Marijuana arrests are a relatively safe and easy way to meet them, but they don't reduce serious crime," said Levine. "However, these mass arrests can impact the life chances of young African Americans, who actually consume marijuana at lower rates than young whites."

The release of the report was accompanied by a political bombshell: the endorsement of Proposition 19 by the California NAACP, announced by state chapter head Alice Huffman at a June 29 press conference. Also attending the conference were other prominent black leaders, including Aubry Stone, head of the California Black Chamber of Commerce.

Citing the report, Huffman called ending pot prohibition a civil rights issue. Marijuana prohibition has criminalized many young people and hampered the ability of African-Americans to thrive, she said.

"This is not a war on the drug lords, this is a war against young men and women of color," Huffman told the press conference. "Once a person is arrested and brought under the criminal justice system, he or she is more likely to be caught in the criminal justice system again, further wasting tax dollars."

Not every West Coast African American agrees with Huffman, and one who pointedly doesn't is Bishop Ron Allen, head of the International Faith-Based Coalition, which claims to represent some 4,100 congregations worldwide, and which has emerged as a loud locus of opposition to legalization. Allen's commanding presence and stentorian oratory have become a fixture at the state house whenever marijuana is on the agenda, and he has become a go-to guy for reporters seeking opposition viewpoints. The CA NAACP's endorsement of Prop. 19 has Allen calling for Huffman's political head.

"We would like for Alice Huffman to step down as state president immediately," Bishop Allen told the Chronicle, adding that he was depending on the national NAACP to take action. "We think Alice Huffman is advocating getting the black man high. Let's decriminalize so the black man can continue to smoke without fear of arrest is not the answer. The NAACP is supposed to advance colored people, but how can you do that when you advocate continuing to have an illicit drug in their lives?"

Allen, a self-described former seven-year crack addict, is passionate, but his arguments tend to ring of Reefer Madness and the standard anti-pot playbook. "This isn't the same marijuana. The THC is so much higher," he said.

"Marijuana is still a gateway drug," he continued. "We are seeing more teens enter treatment because of marijuana," he added, neglecting to mention that a majority of them are there because they got busted and were ordered there by a court.

"Legalize a drug, and it will be more accessible to our youth," Allen said. "We will have more drug babies, more murders, more rapes. Legalization will lead to more incarceration of the black man, not less."

And sometimes Allen goes so far as to strain credulity. Attacking Huffman for associating with DPA, he said "you can't be in cahoots with the biggest drug dealers in the nation." Moments later he repeated the outlandish claim, saying "everybody knows the Drug Policy Alliance are drug dealers."

That drew a tart response from DPA's Tommy McDonald. "As someone who's never sold drugs or done hard drugs, I take great exception to Mr. Allen's characterization of Drug Policy Alliance employees and its members. And as a black man, I am particularly disappointed that Allen is doing the bidding of people who would love nothing more than to see our prisons filled with black and Latino youth," he said. "While his conviction is admirable, Allen's irrational and uninformed (and drug war financed, I might add) Reefer Madness propaganda is transparent and predictable. I wish him no ill will, but he might want to stick to the teachings of his Bible and not 'bear false witness against thy neighbor.' I would expect a so-called man of the cloth to know better."

Allen's views may be extreme, but they do reflect those of part of the black community, said Hutchinson. "Many blacks fear legalization could lead to greater drug use, crime and violence," he observed. "Others agree that legalization would do just the opposite."

While Allen declared himself confident Prop. 19 would be defeated in the fall, his role in the eventual outcome will probably be insignificant, said veteran scene-watchers. "I think the Bishop is basically a one-man band," scoffed Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "He's got his church there in Sacramento, and I've only ever encountered him at legislative hearings. I heard him give passionate but ludicrous testimony about how pot should remain illegal because he almost ruined himself with drugs in a market where drugs were illegal."

Gieringer doubted that Bishop Allen would have much impact one way or the other. "His stuff will resonate with his crowd and some religious people, but positions are already fairly fixed. People are either for or against, and the undecided vote is small," he said. "I don't think an angry black preacher is going to have much impact on them."

Will California's black population support Prop. 19? We will find out on Election Day, but the Bishop Allen notwithstanding, support for marijuana legalization in the community is strong. Whether more of it can be won over to Prop. 19 itself, the next few months will tell the new DPA report and the endorsement by the state NAACP are a good start.

Marijuana Legalization: California Pot Price Could Drop to $38 an Ounce, Rand Study Finds

If marijuana were legalized in California, prices could drop dramatically, consumption would increase (although how much is anyone's guess), and tax revenues could either wildly exceed published estimates or come in much lower, according to which sets of assumptions hold true, the RAND Drug Policy Research Center said in a report released Wednesday.

The report, Assessing How Marijuana Legalization in California Could Influence Marijuana Consumption and Public Budgets, assumes the cost of indoor marijuana production at no more than $300 to $400 a pound. Under legalization, the retail ounce price could drop to as low as $38 pre-tax, the researchers found.

"There are several reasons to anticipate such a sharp decline," the report said. "First, we anticipate that workers' wages will fall because employers will not have to pay a risk premium to employees for participating in an illegal activity. Second, there will be greater ability to use labor-saving automation, especially in the manicuring stage. Third, production at the level of an entire grow house, or several houses operated together, permits economies of scale not available to grows kept small enough to avoid attracting the attention of not just federal but also local law enforcement. Fourth, assuming that growers avoid attracting federal law-enforcement attention, they will face minimal risk of arrest and forfeiture."

The authors caution that pricing estimates depend on a number of variables, including whether an excise tax is imposed, the degree to which it is collected or evaded, and the degree to which regulatory burdens impose economic costs on producers.

Current retail pot prices in California are from $250 to $400 an ounce for high grade weed, so a $38 ounce is about an 80% price reduction. Such a reduction is assumed to increase the rate of consumption, but as the authors note, "the magnitude of the consumption increase cannot be predicted because prices will fall to levels below those ever studied."

Consumption could also increase because of non-price factors, such as loss of stigma or advertising campaigns. The authors said they "could not rule out" consumption increases of 50% to 100%, which would bring consumption to levels not seen since the late 1970s, the heyday of pot smoking in America.

The state Board of Equalization estimated that legalization could generate $1.4 billion a year in tax revenues, based on the $50 an ounce tax envisioned in legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco). The marijuana legalization initiative, Proposition 19, however, does not include provisions for taxation at the state level, only at the local level, and only if those localities decide to allow taxed and regulated marijuana production and sales.

Those considerations, as well the abovementioned factors of level of taxation and tax evasion and the response of the federal government mean revenue estimates vary wildly and could be dramatically lower or higher than the board's $1.4 billion a year estimate.

"There is considerable uncertainty about the impact that legalizing marijuana in California will have on consumption and public budgets," said Beau Kilmer, the study's lead author and a policy researcher at RAND. "No government has legalized the production and distribution of marijuana for general use, so there is little evidence on which to base any predictions about how this might work in California."

But a fella can dream, can't he?

Will the Marijuana Vote Help the Democrats in November?

That's the question everyone's asking this week thanks to this piece from Joshua Green at The Atlantic. The idea is that putting marijuana reform initiatives on the ballot could bring greater numbers of young, left-leaning voters out to the polls in November. With marijuana initiatives up for a vote in six states this year, we'll have an interesting opportunity to evaluate how other campaigns are impacted by the pot vote.

Whether the theory amounts to much is hard to predict and will be difficult to measure even after the polls close in November. But the fact that we're even talking about this is significant. Our political culture is fascinated with the idea that niche demographics can be mobilized in a cynical effort to shape the balance of power in Washington. Karl Rove's successful use of gay marriage bans to bring out conservative voters in 2004 is still widely regarded as an ingenious ploy that may have clinched the election for Bush.

The mere notion that state-level marijuana reform efforts can impact national politics is a healthy dose of leverage and legitimacy for our movement. When political pundits begin speculating about our ability to bring out voters, that sends a message to politicians in a language they understand. For decades, the Democratic Party has remained shamefully silent on marijuana policy -- despite overwhelming support for reform within its base – all because party leaders persist in clinging foolishly to the 1980's mentality that any departure from the "tough on drugs" doctrine is political suicide. What now?

Will the Democrats continue defending the arrest of their own supporters, even when doing so threatens to compromise their candidates in close races? Will the Republicans make a show of fighting back against legalization, even when doing so threatens to alienate the party's growing libertarian wing? What happens next is anyone's guess, but it's becoming clear that the surging marijuana legalization debate is pinching political nerves and creating opportunities for anyone clever enough to capitalize on it.

Feature: Arizona Medical Marijuana Initiative Looking Good This November

Come November 2, there could be two more medical marijuana states, as voters in both South Dakota and Arizona go to the polls to vote on medical marijuana initiatives. Last week, we surveyed the state of play in South Dakota. This week, we turn our attention to Arizona.
While Arizona's political class has been caught up in the wild and woolly politics of immigration, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Policy Project (AMMPP) at the beginning of this month quietly qualified its initiative for the November ballot after turning in more than 252,000 voter signatures in March.

Under the initiative, known as the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, patients suffering from a specified list of diseases or conditions (cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C, multiple sclerosis, Chrohn's disease, Alzheimers, wasting syndrome, severe and chronic pain, severe nausea, seizures, severe muscle spasms) or "any other conditions or its treatment added by the Department [of Health]" could use marijuana upon a doctor's recommendation. Patients or designated caregivers could possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of usable marijuana.

The initiative envisions a system of state-registered, nonprofit dispensaries that could grow, process, sell, and transport medical marijuana and be remunerated for costs incurred in the process. In most cases, patients or their caregivers would not be allowed to grow their own medicine. Instead, unless they live more than 25 miles from the nearest dispensary, they would have to purchase their medicine at a dispensary. Patients and their caregivers outside that range would be allowed to grow up to 12 plants.

A little more than four months out from Election Day, the Arizona initiative appears to be well positioned for victory. "It's looking good, very good," said AMMPP spokesman Andrew Myers. "Arizona has shown overwhelming support for medical marijuana in the past, and our polling numbers are similar," he said.

"The polling we've seen is very encouraging, and there's been some opposition, but it doesn't seem very organized," said Mike Meno, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). "We're hopeful that Arizona can join the list of states that have effective medical marijuana laws."

Both Meno and Myers cited a February 2009 opinion poll on the topic. That poll showed that 65% of Arizonans supported medical marijuana.

Arizonans have also twice voted to approve medical marijuana, in 1996 and again in 1998. In 1996, the initiative passed, only to be rejected by the state legislature, which placed it on the ballot two years later in order to give voters a chance to rectify their mistake. But the voters again approved medical marijuana, only to find out later that the measure was unworkable because the initiative mandated that physicians prescribe -- not recommend -- medical marijuana. That meant that doctors who wanted their patients to use marijuana would run up against the DEA, which controls doctors' ability to prescribe controlled substances.

In 2002, voters rejected a decriminalization initiative that had, as Myers put it, "a wacky medical component." Under that measure, the state Department of Public Safety would have had to distribute seized marijuana for free to medical marijuana patients.

"This is the first time we've had a complete, workable medical marijuana proposal in the state," said Myers.

What the campaign will look like this fall depends on what the opposition -- if any -- does, said both Meno and Myers. Meno said that MPP has invested more than $500,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to qualify the measure for the ballot, and while he declined to comment on MPP's plans in the state for the next few months, he did say that MPP was ready to spend what it takes to get over the top. "We are fully confident that enough will be spent over the next four months to ensure that we are celebrating a victory on November 2," he said.

"What our campaign is going to look like will be dictated by what our opposition is," said Myers, a Phoenix-based political consultant. "We're not going to spend millions of dollars on a campaign where there isn't any organized opposition, and we haven't seen anyone willing to spend money on the other side. As it stands right now, there is a good chance this won't be an expensive campaign. We're leading by 30 points with no opposition."

The only opposition that has so far emerged is Stop the Pot, a web site put up by Max Fose, a former Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) political operative, now a political consultant looking for opportunities to cash in on anti-marijuana sentiment -- if it emerges. That web site has been largely inactive since it first went up a few weeks ago. Fose did not respond to Chronicle requests for an interview.

"I know Max personally," said Myers. "He's a political consultant here and he's trying to drum up some business. He's hoping that if some outside group comes in, he'll be in a position to form a committee to get some of those dollars."

One of the unique -- and controversial -- properties of the Arizona initiative is that does not allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own pot. The only exception is if patients are more than 25 miles away from a dispensary. "We wanted to design a system that served the needs of typical patients," explained Myers. "We started from the assumption that about 95% of patients who will be receiving recommendations are going to want to use dispensaries. Growing your own product or finding a competent caregiver can be very difficult."

But there was another reason for limiting patient grows, said Myers. "Arizona is a state with a very dense population -- most of the state's population is in Phoenix and Tucson -- and there was concern about large numbers of people doing urban cultivation. That was a major law enforcement concern, but this halo around dispensaries restricts urban growing, and it has the added benefit of providing a market for the dispensaries. In essence, the more patients a nonprofit dispensary has, the lower the price. We wanted to have a situation where dispensaries are available, like California, but where patients don't have to pay black market prices."

That reasoning wasn't real popular with some local activists. "We're not 100% happy with the language, but we helped get signatures and we will support it," said Mary Mackenzie, founder of the Tucson-based AZ4NORML, a local NORML affiliate. "We want it legal here for somebody," she exclaimed.

"We don't like that 25-mile perimeter thing, but we're hoping that at least here in Tucson, if police catch a patient growing, they will leave him alone," said Mackenzie. "And there aren't enough eligible conditions. Once we win, we are going to have to go back and start adding conditions. We'll be working with the legislature, the Department of Health, and law enforcement down the road to make changes to make this a better law," she said.

Myers admitted that the no-grow provision was not liked by some elements of the marijuana community, but said it was aimed at protecting likely patients. "We've caught a lot of flak from activists, but most patients don't go to NORML meetings," he said. "We're thinking about a middle-aged woman diagnosed with breast cancer whose oncologist suggests medical marijuana. We wanted a program that would be accessible for people like that."

All of the hysteria about Mexican drug cartels on the border may end up playing into the initiative's hands, said Myers. "We have a really good argument to make that medical patients in Arizona are forced into a really terrible choice: Either continuing to suffer without their medicine, or go the black market. Since most of the marijuana in Arizona comes from Mexico, buying black market marijuana means you are financing violent criminals. Legitimate medical marijuana patients should not have to feel they are inadvertently providing funding to violent criminals as they seek relief. Passing this initiative takes the money out of the hands of criminals and puts it in the hands of nonprofit dispensaries that will serve the community."

Is there anyone in Arizona who wants to argue that it's better to hurt patients than to hurt the cartels? If so, the campaign is chomping at the bit to get into that argument. Come November 2, Arizona looks very likely indeed to join the ranks of the medical marijuana states.

Marijuana: Miami Beach Decriminalization Initiative Campaign Gets Underway

A group that wants to decriminalize marijuana possession in Miami Beach kicked off its campaign with a Wednesday night press conference. The next day, workers were hitting the Art Deco streets of the famed resort town to begin gathering signatures. They are aiming at putting the measure, which would amend the city charter, on the November ballot.

Organized by the Florida Campaign for Sensible Marijuana Policies, which is also organizing local decrim initiatives in Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville Beach, and Atlantic Beach, the measure would allow Miami Beach police to issue a citation for a civil infraction instead of processing a misdemeanor marijuana possession arrest for small amounts of pot. The amendment would also increase the discretion of the state attorney to permit a plea to a civil infraction where appropriate.

Marijuana possession up to 20 grams would still be a misdemeanor under state law, and as they have done elsewhere, local police could ignore the will of the voters and continue to charge people under state law if the initiative passes.

The amendment needs some 4,400 valid signatures to make the November ballot. Thanks to a donation from a local film production company, it has the money to pay signature-gatherers, and organizers said they plan to far exceed the required number.

"The sum total effect of 72 years of marijuana prohibition and more than twenty million arrests since 1965 is that marijuana is now the largest cash crop in the United States and probably the most economically valuable agricultural commodity produced in the State of Florida. According to a recent report by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, Florida spends $573,366,000 annually on wholly ineffectual efforts to eradicate marijuana, a substance that every objective study has determined to be far less harmful than alcohol," said Ford Banister, chairman of the committee.

Banister said he is convinced Miami Beach is progressive enough to pass such a measure. "We are confident that the progressive and enlightened citizens of Miami Beach will agree that it's time we stop driving people to drink with excessive penalties for the use of a far safer substance," he said. "And if they do not yet know how much safer marijuana is than alcohol and the savings garnered by ending a failed policy, we will be working hard to educate them over the course of this campaign."

Florida is one of the bastions of Reefer Madness. It's high time somebody started pushing in the opposite direction in the Sunshine State.

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School