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Feature: California Marijuana Legalization Initiative Effort Underway, Aimed at 2010 Ballot

Talk about marijuana legalization is at a level never seen before this year, and nowhere is that more strongly the case than in California. For the first time, a legalization bill is before the state legislature. Legalization recently polled at 56% in California. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps entranced by visions of dollar signs as he presides over an exploding budget deficit and imploding state economy, has publicly pondered whether now is the time to talk about legalization. And with the state bordering on Mexico, the notion of undercutting Mexican drug trafficking profits through legalization resonates especially loudly in the Golden State.

Now, somebody wants to do something about it, and the revolution is starting in Oaksterdam, the medical marijuana business empire/social movement centered in downtown Oakland and anchored by Richard Lee's Bulldog Café, SR-71 dispensary, and Oaksterdam University. Lee and a team of activists, attorneys, political consultants, and signature-gathering pros are working on the final drafts of an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in California that they hope to place on the November 2010 election ballot.

In its current form (which is still subject to revision), the initiative would:

  • Allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults;
  • Allow adults to grow in an area of up to 25 square feet, and keep the fruits of the harvest;
  • Allow counties and municipalities to license the cultivation of marijuana for commercial sales and license marijuana retail sales;
  • Allow consumption in licensed premises;
  • Allow counties and municipalities to tax any licensed production or sales;
  • Not allow interstate or international sales.
marijuana plants (photo from US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikimedia)
Each provision leaves room for argument over its wisdom and its complications. Leaving legal marijuana commerce and taxation to localities instead of the state, for instance, could weaken the argument for state tax revenue benefits, but make the measure more palatable to counties either cash-strapped and eager for revenues or conservative and not desirous of allowing "pot clubs" to sprout in their domains.

Others require a bit of explanation. The provision for allowing possession of only an ounce runs contrary to treating it like alcohol -- there are no limits on wine cellars or beer collections -- and appears at first glance to at least potentially conflict with the personal grow provision. But the one ounce would be the state minimum; even in counties or cities that choose not to allow marijuana commerce, pot smokers could still have their stash.

The larger questions around a 2010 legalization initiative in California are whether the time is right and what would be the consequences of failure. Movement opinion appears to be split.

"We see a lot of things making it right for this time," said Lee. "The budget crisis here in California, the violence in Mexico, the economy continuing to decline, the polls -- all suggest that this may be the time to do it. The bigger picture is it's important to keep the issue alive, and we hope to have a vigorous campaign over the next year and a half to move this forward."

"This initiative is inevitable," said long-time Southern California activist Cliff Schaffer, who has been insisting for several years now that legalization in California is unstoppable. "I understand the money is already in place to gather signatures. They plan to do this whether anybody else likes it or not."

The time is ripe now, said Schaffer. "We've already got the tax issue -- the billion dollars in tax revenue even got Arnold's attention, and I think that 56% approval number is going to increase naturally. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it in the 60s by this time next year," he predicted.

But the national marijuana reform organizations are not so excited, and even a little bit nervous. National NORML didn't even want to talk about it, deferring instead to the state chapter. And the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), while diplomatic, was decidedly lukewarm.

"Everybody supports the idea of what Richard is trying to do and wants to see marijuana regulated and taxed in California as soon as possible, but there is also an ongoing debate and uncertainty as to when and how is best to proceed," said Bruce Mirken, MPP's San Francisco-based communications director. "Our take is that the polling we've seen so far suggests it is not likely to pass in 2010. Everyone wants to take advantage of public opinion moving in our direction, but it's not clear that it has moved enough. There is honest debate about when to pull the trigger. In our opinion, we should wait and build our forces and aim at 2012."

"I think it's premature," said Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML. "If you look at the poll numbers carefully, it's clear it wouldn't pass. We saw 56% in the Field Poll, but other polls show smaller margins, and once an initiative has any particulars to attack, you start seeing support melting away percentage point by percentage point."

Urging patience, Gieringer harkened back to the days of Proposition 215. "Before we did Prop. 215, there had been three medical marijuana bills in the state legislature, the Vasconcelos medical marijuana bill had passed and been vetoed, and that was basically what we took to the voters," he said. "We knew that an initiative to allow the personal use and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes would pass because we had already gotten it through the legislature."

Marijuana legalization, on the other hand, doesn't have that extensive legislative pedigree or the years of discussion in Sacramento about its ins-and-outs that allows points of contention to be fleshed out. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced a legalization bill this year, but this is the first time, and it hasn't even had a hearing yet.

"The Ammiano bill is very far-reaching, but it hasn't been discussed," said Gieringer. "We need to take this to the legislature, see where the weak points are. Those kinds of discussions will lead to changes and revisions and give us an idea where we can get the public to support this."

And then there's the cost. "Initiative campaigns are mind-bogglingly expensive here, and we may not get a lot of chances to raise the money to do it right," Mirken pointed out. "Smaller states like Nevada, we could do for around $2 million, but that doesn't even cover a decent local campaign here in California."

The challenges are considerable, Lee conceded, but that isn't stopping him. "We need to collect 460,000 valid signatures, and that means we need to collect 650,000 signatures. We think it will cost about $1.50 a signature, so you're looking at about a million dollars just to get it on the ballot."

Lee said backers hoped to have a final draft early next month. From there, the initiative goes to the attorney general's office for a title and summary, and should be ready for signature-gathering by the end of August. From then, organizers will have 150 days to collect the required signatures.

"We're a draft or two away," said Lee. "We're making some changes in the current draft and then we will test it again with our focus groups. We're getting pretty close now."

Once the initiative makes it to the ballot, said Lee, financial backing should appear. "I think people will start coming out of the woodwork to get on board," he said.

There are also arguments that could appeal to so far untapped, even unfriendly constituencies, said Schaffer. "It's not just taxes. We're also talking about the revenue from growing this stuff. The tax revenues are chump change compared to that. We'll see an additional $20 billion in revenue from the Central Valley, and people here have to pay income taxes at an 11% rate; that's another $2 billion right there. We have to make that an issue," he said.

Schaffer already has been playing that card in the conservative, but economically depressed and increasingly desperate Central Valley, the state's leading agricultural region, and one of the most important in the world. His brash views have garnered interest from farmers and press attention in an area of the state not considered friendly towards marijuana.

"That's a huge cash crop -- do we want those billions to go to Mexico or to Central Valley farmers?" is the question Schaffer is posing. "This is going to be a very important argument in the Central Valley, and we're going to have trouble unless we can pick up votes there, too. If we turn this into an economic opportunity, then we're not arguing about whether marijuana is good or bad, but does Fresno want $20 billion."

While putting dollars signs in the eyes of farm country will build support there, said Schaffer, the best argument for legalization proponents will be the "like alcohol" argument. "Everyone understands that," he said. "The closer we can come to just saying tax and regulate it like alcohol, the better off we are with the general public."

It's the consequences of losing a legalization initiative in California that concern MPP's Mirken and CANORML's Gieringer. "California has a reputation as a liberal, progressive state," said Mirken. "If it loses badly here, that could be perceived as serious setback at the national level."

"If we lose in 2010, that will really take the wind out of our sails," said Gieringer. "The legislature won't have to take us seriously, and there won't be anything on the 2012 ballot because funders will get discouraged and pull out. When an initiative loses in California, the cause dies. We're on a really great track toward legalization now, but we need to develop this further, and that's going to take a few years."

And so begins the debate within the California marijuana legalization debate. Would California voters jump on board for legalization next year, with momentum growing like Iranian demonstrations, or will opponents find enough niggling loose ends and unanswered questions to derail it? Is now the time for the final push, or will eagerness to make progress turn into a trap?

Right now, the ball is in the hands of Richard Lee and his Oaksterdam team.

Press Release: NH Legislative Committee Approves Revised Medical Marijuana Bill


JUNE 18, 2009

Committee Approves Revised Medical Marijuana Bill

Legislators Worked to Address Governor Lynch's Concerns, Eliminate Possibilities for Diversion

CONTACT: Matt Simon, NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, (603) 391-7450

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — All seven legislators who were tasked with crafting a compromise on the medical marijuana bill signed off on the revised version today. A vote to approve the new language is expected June 24 in the House and Senate, after which the bill will proceed to Gov. John Lynch's desk.

     This special seven-member "committee of conference," chaired by House Health, Human Services, and Elderly Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Cindy Rosenwald (D-Nashua), was formed to address eight specific concerns that were expressed by Lynch. The bill had passed both Houses in slightly different forms and was scheduled for final approval in the House when Lynch's office reportedly informed Rosenwald that the bill would be vetoed if passed in its original form.

     Since then, the bill has been rewritten to address all eight concerns. Most significantly, the new bill will not permit patients or their caregivers to cultivate their own marijuana plants, as patients are permitted to do in all 13 states that currently protect medical marijuana patients from arrest. Instead, the amended bill would allow for the creation of up to three nonprofit "compassion centers," which could legally cultivate medical marijuana and dispense it to patients.

     Rather than creating a new model from scratch, the committee of conference produced a bill similar to legislation that passed in Rhode Island Tuesday. That state's bill, which adds compassion centers to its already existing medical marijuana program, will become law now that legislators overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's veto, 67-0 in the Rhode Island House and 35-3 in the Senate. New Hampshire’s bill is much more restrictive than Rhode Island's law, which also allows patients and their caregivers to cultivate medical marijuana.

     Advocates were confident that the amendment would remove all reasonable objections to HB 648.

     "As amended, HB 648 would create the most tightly crafted medical marijuana law in the country," said Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. "Some legislators voted against the bill initially because they felt that distribution of medical marijuana should be tightly controlled. If these legislators truly believe patients should not have to live in fear of being arrested by New Hampshire police, they should be willing to support this version of the bill."

     In the coming week, advocates will present legislators with a document – available online at – detailing the committee's changes and specifies how all eight of the governor's concerns have been addressed.


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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Are Coming to Rhode Island

It's official:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The House and Senate on Tuesday each overrode Governor Carcieri's veto of legislation allowing three "compassion centers" to dispense medical marijuana.

The Senate vote was 35 to 3. The House vote was unanimous, 67 to 0.
For the bill to become law, both houses were required to overide the veto of their own and the other house's bill. The measure is now in effect.

It's just inspiring to see an entire state legislature stand up in unison to protect patients. Carcieri's veto was driven by the same petty, false, and widely-refuted propaganda that's been deployed in desperation against medical marijuana legislation for more than a decade now:

In vetoing the bills, Carcieri said he thought "the increased availability, along with a complacent attitude, will no doubt result in increased usage, and will negatively impact the children of Rhode Island" and complicate the jobs of law enforcement officers.

Think about how remarkable it is that virtually the entire House and Senate of Rhode Island have come forth and firmly rejected this garbage. There was a time when reformers were all alone on this issue, yet today it is our opposition that stands isolated and estranged from public opinion.

The folks at the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition deserve a big round of applause for taking on this battle and winning by knockout.

Press Release: Rhode Island to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Historic Move

JUNE 16, 2009

Rhode Island to License Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Move Hailed as Historic
Legislature Overrides Veto; Rhode Island Is First State to Expand an Existing Medical Marijuana Law to Permit Dispensaries

CONTACT: Bruce Mirken, MPP director of communications ............... 415-585-6404 or 202-215-4205

PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND -- In a historic first, Rhode Island legislators today made their state the first ever to expand an existing medical marijuana law to allow for state-licensed compassion centers to grow and distribute marijuana to registered patients. Legislators easily overrode the veto issued by Gov. Donald Carcieri with override votes of 68-0 in the House and 35-3 in the Senate.

     Rhode Island's medical marijuana law, like most such state laws, did not set up a formal distribution system, but simply allowed patients to grow a limited quantity of medical marijuana for their own use or designate a caregiver to grow it for them. In March, New Mexico became the first state to grant a state license to a medical marijuana producer, pursuant to legislation passed last year.

     "We are seeing a historic shift to allowing state-licensed, regulated medical marijuana production and distribution," said Karen O'Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. "Combining regulated distribution with provisions for patients to grow a limited quantity for themselves is the best way to assure safe access for patients, with solid safeguards to prevent abuse." States where medical marijuana bills that include a dispensary provision are under consideration include Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, and a similar ballot initiative is now being circulated in Arizona. This November, Maine voters will vote on a ballot initiative to add dispensaries to the state's medical marijuana law.

     "During the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided medical marijuana patients and caregivers in California, leaving states hesitant to set up state-regulated distribution," said MPP director of government relations Aaron Houston. "Now that the Obama administration has announced a policy change, state legislators seem to feel safer adopting a sensible, regulated system of medical marijuana distribution that avoids the mistakes of California, where dispensaries sprang up with no rules. This is a historic step forward."

     With more than 27,000 members and 100,000 e-mail subscribers nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. MPP believes that the best way to minimize the harm associated with marijuana is to regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol. For more information, please visit


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Rhode Island passes new medical marijuana law

Dear Friends:

Great news! Rhode Island just passed a new medical marijuana law.

In landslide votes of 68-0 and 35-3, the Rhode Island General Assembly today overrode Gov. Donald Carcieri's (R) veto of legislation to allow the licensed, regulated sale of marijuana to seriously ill patients. Rhode Island will now become only the second state (after New Mexico) to license and regulate medical marijuana dispensing.

This expands the law that MPP passed in 2006, which protects medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail. Under that law, patients were allowed to grow their own marijuana or designate a caregiver to do it for them, but many patients didn't have regular access, and some were even assaulted trying to buy marijuana in the streets. Thanks to the new law, patients will now be able to obtain medical marijuana safely and legally from three state-regulated and licensed compassion centers.

MPP gives a special thanks to the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, an MPP grant recipient, for incredible organizing work.

If you support this work, would you please consider automatically donating $5 or more on your credit card each month to help us pass similar bills into law?

We're also making great progress in Delaware, Illinois, New Hampshire, and New York:

  • On June 3, the Delaware Senate Health Committee voted 4-0 to pass the first modern medical marijuana bill ever introduced in Delaware. The bill is based on MPP's model legislation, and MPP's Noah Mamber testified in support of the bill. This is the first year MPP has funded medical marijuana work in Delaware, and we're making rapid progress.
  • On May 27, the Illinois Senate passed a medical marijuana bill by 30-28. MPP has been lobbying and organizing in the state since 2004, and this year, we ramped up the pressure — running TV ads featuring two patients and generating more than 4,000 e-mails and 3,600 calls to legislators. After the Senate victory, a House committee swiftly approved the bill, but the legislature recessed only three days later. We have until the end of 2010 to pass the bill this session.
  • In New Hampshire, MPP has retained a top lobbying firm and grassroots organizer to pass a medical marijuana bill, and it looks like the legislature will send Gov. John Lynch (D) the legislation to sign later this month. Back in March, the House passed the bill, 234-138, and on April 29, the Senate passed an amended version, 14-10. This is the first time either chamber has approved medical marijuana legislation, and we need your help for a final push, complete with radio ads, to urge Gov. Lynch (D) to let the bill become law.
  • Our chances of passing medical marijuana legislation in New York this year got more complicated last week, when the state Senate tumbled into a major leadership battle. The Assembly has passed similar legislation twice (in 2007 and 2008), but it still needs to be voted on by the Senate, where it has already passed one committee. We've built an impressive coalition: Virtually the entire state medical community, including the state medical society, nurses' association, and hospice association, support medical marijuana access. And 76% of New Yorkers support the bill, including 55% of Conservative Party members (the state party to the right of Republicans).

This is amazing progress for just a few months. Our state lobbying efforts are costing quite a bit of money, but it's all paying off. Would you please donate today so we can continue pushing hard in these states?

Make a one-time donation to our work

Become a monthly pledger to provide us with ongoing funding for our work

Together, we're on the path to victory, but we need your help to keep going.

Thank you,

Rob Kampia
Executive Director
Marijuana Policy Project
Washington, D.C.

P.S. As I've mentioned in previous alerts, a major philanthropist has committed to match the first $2.35 million that MPP can raise from the rest of the planet in 2009. This means that your donation today will be doubled.

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DC Residents: Before Your Summer Starts

You Can Make a Difference



Dear DC Friends,

Urge the City Council to pass a resolution now to assert our rights to make our own laws without congressional interference -- including protecting medical marijuana!

Take Action Button (new)
Email the Council.

Should the federal government have the right to say what laws we can pass here in DC?

You and I have been working together to help our city gain control over its own drug policy, and we're making progress!

Still, the District of Columbia can't fully make its own rules when it comes to things like medical marijuana or khat, a plant used as a mild stimulant, similar to coffee, among some of our African communities here.

This doesn't seem like democracy to me. But you can fight for DC sovereignty by urging the City Council to pass a new resolution asserting the District’s right to make its own laws without congressional interference.

If the council passes the resolution now, we can have a stronger impact on the part of the federal budget that concerns our city and our rights, and the budget will be finalized soon.

You can join me in working with partners like the Marijuana Policy Project. Take action today and urge your Council to pass this resolution before the summer recess. You deserve a free and just city, and together, we can build it!

Thanks for all you do.


Naomi Long
Director, DC Metro Project
Drug Policy Alliance Network



Washington, DC
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Tough Times: California Protests Over HIV/AIDS Budget Cuts -- Needle Exchange Funding at Risk, Prop. 36 Funding to Vanish

California's $24 billion budget deficit and the steep cuts proposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to reduce it provoked demonstrations by HIV/AIDS activists and harm reductionists last Friday in Los Angeles, Monday in Fresno, and Wednesday in Sacramento calling for the restoration of funding. Late last month, Schwarzenegger announced plans to slice $80.1 million in funding for critical HIV/AIDS services, including totally eliminating general fund support for all State Office of AIDS programs except the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which will lose $12.3 million in general fund support.

The cuts would zero out state funding for harm reduction services through the AIDS office, as well as most of the HIV/AIDS prevention funds that California cities use to provide grants for needle exchange programs. For most of the 40 needle exchanges in the state, those grants provided between 60% and 90% of their total funding.

HIV/AIDS and harm reduction groups have organized a coalition known as Stop the HIV Cuts in a bid to reverse the proposed cuts. In addition to the demonstration in Sacramento, protests were also held Wednesday in San Diego and Palm Springs.

Funding for Proposition 36, the voter-approved 2001 law that requires that low-level drug offenders be sent to treatment instead of jail or prison, is also on the line. Gov. Schwarzenegger wants the legislature to eliminate the $108 million line-item for the program, which enrolls some 36,000 drug offenders in the state.

But that would leave California in a strange bind. Prop. 36 is not a program, but a state law, approved by the voters, who mandated that the legislature fund the program through 2006. It prevents judges from sending Prop. 36-eligible offenders to prison, instead of requiring that they receive treatment. If the state does not provide funding, the burden will shift to counties and municipalities, which will not be able to make up the difference. That means that Prop. 36-eligible offenders may, in the near future, receive neither jail sentences nor treatment.

Medical Marijuana: Rhode Island Dispensary Bill Passes with Veto-Proof Margins

Rhode Island will become the third state in the nation to enact a dispensary system to distribute medical marijuana to seriously ill patients after the state Senate joined the House in passing S185, the Edwin O. Hawkins and Thomas C. Slater Medical Marijuana Act by veto-proof margins. As of Thursday afternoon, the bill was on the governor's desk.
Rhode Island Senate chamber
Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) has been a consistent foe of medical marijuana, vetoing bills in previous years. But with the Senate voting 30-2 to adopt the measure and the House voting 64-4 in favor last week, a Carcieri veto should be easily overridden.

The measure would permit three dispensaries to operate to sell marijuana to medical marijuana patients. Nearly 700 patients have registered with the state Department of Health since legislators approved a medical marijuana law there in 2006.

Under that law, Rhode Islanders suffering from chronic pain, seizures, multiple scleroris, severe nausea, or Alzheimer's are allowed to possess up to 12 plants and 2.5 ounces of marijuana. But the law carries no provision for patients unable or unwilling to grow their own medicine to obtain it elsewhere.

While 13 states have medical marijuana laws on the books, only two of them, California and New Mexico, allow for dispensaries.

"The Rhode Island Statehouse is on the cutting edge of helping people with severe health care problems," said Sen. Rhoda Perry (D-Providence), sponsor of the Senate bill. "Now patients will not be subjecting themselves to any harassment because we will have a well-regulated mechanism that will grow and distribute the marijuana."

The push for the dispensary legislation in Rhode Island was led by the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition and the Marijuana Policy Project.

Rhode Island Senate Votes to Open Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Legal access to medical marijuana could soon be coming to the east coast:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island would be the third state in the nation and the first on the East Coast to allow nonprofit stores to sell marijuana to medical patients under legislation approved Tuesday by state lawmakers.

The state Senate voted 30-2 to adopt a measure permitting three stores to sell marijuana to more than 680 patients registered with the state Department of Health. It now heads to Gov. Don Carcieri, who has previously vetoed bills legalizing marijuana for medical use.

A veto from the governor is almost certain, but towering majorities in the House and Senate should make it possible to override the veto. That's exactly how Rhode Island's original medical marijuana law was passed. Maybe Carcieri should just sign the damn thing and save himself the double embarrassment of not only trying to stand between seriously-ill patients and their medicine, but also failing at it.

ASA Sponsored Resolution Calls for Federal Change

Dear ASA Supporter,

California Senator Mark Leno (D-SF) introduced Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 14 yesterday. This ASA-sponsored resolution calls on the President and US Congress to end medical cannabis raids in California and to "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it." If adopted, SJR 14 will be the first time a state legislature has officially called for a change in federal medical cannabis policies.

Please help ASA get SJR 14 adopted by making a special contribution of $100 today.

The President and US Attorney General Eric Holder have talked about a new federal policy concerning medical cannabis, but there is still a lot of work to do in defining what that policy will be. SJR 14 supports ASA's National Policy Agenda and is part of our strategic campaign to shape a more reasonable and compassionate federal policy - one that ensures safe and legal access for all patients nationwide.

The resolution calls on the President and the US Congress to (1) end federal raids, intimidation, and interference with state medical cannabis laws; (2) adopt policies and laws to encourage advanced clinical research trials into the therapeutic use of cannabis; (3) provide for an affirmative defense to medical cannabis charges in federal court; and (4) to create comprehensive federal medical cannabis policy that ensures safe and legal access for patients.

SJR 14 is an opportunity for the California legislature to influence the development of the new federal policy, defend the state's right to choose and regulate medical cannabis, and to defend the compassionate will of the voters. But, we only have a short time to get this resolution through committees and floor votes in the State Senate and Assembly.

Please support ASA by donating today so that we can get SJR 14 adopted right away!

Thank you for your help,

Rebecca Saltzman
Chief of Staff
Americans for Safe Access

P.S. For more information on SJR 14, visit
United States

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