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It Looks Like 2016 for a Marijuana Legalization Bid in California [FEATURE]

If the first day of the California NORML state conference is any indication, most of the major players in Golden State marijuana law reform are lining up behind the idea of waiting until 2016 to try another legalization initiative there. They have some good reasons, but not everybody's happy with that, and some heart-rending reasons why that's the case were also on display as California marijuana activists gathered in San Francisco for day one of the two-day event.

Stephen Gutwillig, Dale Gieringer, Paul Armentano
Richard Lee's groundbreaking Proposition 19 garnered 46.5% of the vote in the 2010 off-year election, and no marijuana legalization initiative campaigns managed to make it onto the ballot last year, although several groups tried. Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington beat California to the Promised Land, becoming the first states to legalize marijuana in last November's election.

Now, California activists are eager to make their state the next to legalize, but crafty movement strategists are counseling patience -- and trying to build their forces in the meantime. The Prop 19 campaign made a strong beginning, bringing in elements of organized labor and the black and Hispanic communities, as well as dissident law enforcement voices, to help form a coalition that came close, but didn't quite make it.

As CANORML deputy director Ellen Komp reminded the audience at a Saturday morning panel on what comes next for marijuana law reform, the people behind the Proposition 19 campaign have formed the core of the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform in a bid to forge unity among the state's diverse, multi-sided, and sometimes fractious marijuana community -- and to encourage new voices to join the struggle.

For the Marijuana Policy Project, California is a big prize, but only part of a broader national strategy, and one that should most likely wait for 2016, said the group's executive director, Rob Kampia, as he explained its plan to push legalization bills in state legislatures in four states (Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont) this year and beyond, but not pushing legalization initiatives anywhere but Alaska in 2014.

MPP is envisioning a big legalization initiative push in 2016 instead, setting its sights on seven states, including California, when the presidential election pumps up the vote. (The others are Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, Montana, Nevada, and Oregon.)

"There's a big demographic difference between 2014 and 2016," said Kampia. "If we do 2016, it's ours to lose."

The Drug Policy Alliance, another major player with access to the big-time funding that can turn an initiative into a winner, also seemed to be looking to 2016.

"It's up to us how, where, and when marijuana prohibition will end," Steve Gutwillig, a DPA deputy executive director and former California state director told the full house at the Ft. Mason Conference Center, "but the presumption is 2016, more than 2014. We need to run a unified campaign, we need to build the base and do alliance-building among people who are already convinced."

spontaneous fundraiser for Daisy Bram
Those positions are in line with the thinking of long-time CANORML head Dale Gieringer, who has long argued that initiatives fare better in presidential election years.

Even some of the proponents of the competing initiatives from last year are, while not exactly enthusiastic about waiting for 2016, are seemingly resigned to it.

Steve Collette, who was a proponent of the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative, told the Chronicle he would prefer 2014, but could get behind 2016, too, while Sebastopol attorney Omar Figueroa, coauthor of the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act initiative, implied in his remarks in a later panel that he, too, was resigned to waiting for 2016.

Noting the confused state of California's medical marijuana laws -- "Nobody knows what the laws are!" -- Figueroa argued for either legislative action or a 2014 medical marijuana initiative "until a legalization initiative in 2016."

Not everyone was as ready to give up on 2014 just yet. Displeased grumblings were heard in the hallways, and an earnest advocate for the Herer-ite California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014 took advantage of a post-panel question-and-answer opportunity to declaim in support of it.

The most powerful and visceral opposition to waiting came in the form of Daisy Bram, a mother of three young children and legal medical marijuana grower. Bram became a symbol of the cruelty of pot prohibition last year, when local authorities in rural Butte County raided her grow, seized her children and place them in foster care, and filed criminal charges against her.

Despite being counseled to comply with the demands of Child Protective Services officials in order to secure the return of her children, one of whom was quite literally torn from her arms, Bram fought back and eventually won the return of children. But just this past week, it happened again. Another raid in another county -- although led by the same investigator -- has resulted in new criminal charges and her children once again being taken by the state.

Omar Figueroa, Michael Levinsohn, Daisy Bram
"My kids need you," she told the hushed crowd. "If it were legal, they wouldn't have my kids."

Daisy Bram doesn't want to wait until 2016 for marijuana to be legalized, she wants it yesterday, and she wants justice, and, most of all, she wants her children back in her arms. Her brief presentation at a panel Saturday afternoon was chilling, impassioned, and powerful, and visibly moved many in the audience.

[Update: CANORML reported Wednesday that at a family court appearance the previous day in her Tehama County case, the state authorities who are already seized her children seized her personal vehicle, a 2002 Ford Explorer, which they claim was the proceeds of crime.]

And while California is a state where just about anyone can get a medical marijuana card and possession of under an ounce is decriminalized, the case of Daisy Bram makes the uncomfortable point that marijuana prohibition continues to exact a real toll on real people, including the innocent. It's not just mothers labeled child abusers because the grow pot; it's also fathers denied visitation, patients thrown out of public housing, workers who must choose between their medicine and their jobs.

It's a bit easier to be sanguine about waiting until 2016 when you're not the one being bitten by those lingering vestiges of prohibition. As Komp put it when introducing Bram, until there is legalization, "there is a lot of human rights work to be done."

San Francisco, CA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Now hold on just one second....

Many advocates in Michigan have high hopes for 2016 too! Don't count us out yet!

Taking children away over marijuana is truly Gestapo tactics

and that is zero exaggeration. The Russian  Communists had a taste for removing children for political crimes also. In a loathsome war, this is one of their most barbaric tactics. Someday there will be memorials to all the victims of this scum war on users of the 'wrong' drugs

Very, very sorry to hear key reformers are planning to wait until 2016 in most states. I don't understand why the messy state of CA's MMJ laws is a reason to wait. Isn't a referendum to legalize rec use and set up uniform legal distribution channels a way to leapfrog all the problems with the CA MMJ laws? It doesn't have to win by 10 points like CO and WA did, and even a close loss in CA in 2014, which is the worst that could happen, would set the stage for a victory in 2016. The more this is debated, the stronger we get. Unless cannabis related catastrophes start happening in CO and WA, it should be clearer than ever by November 2014 that cannabis is MUCH safer than alcohol, and that a more level playing field between the two substances saves lives.

Initial step: one-hitter shops in place

Start trying for 2014, but simultaneously start building in Ultimate Protection against "cannabis catastrophes" which are caused by HBOM Hot Burning Overdose Monoxide combustion technology, chiefly joints and any pipe so big (wide at the top) that you can't control air entry and maintain 385F/197 vape temperature.

If you have money, try to form a partnership with an established headshop and persuade the management to go COMBUSTION-FREE-- sell off the papers, bigpipes etc. to a tobacco store that caters to smart NON-INHALE pipesmokers, develop a workshop room in the basement where one-hitters (choomette, kiseru, midwakh, sebsi) are assembled (5.5-mm top entry diameter, cupshaped crater-screen, 20"/50-cm flexible drawtube, and gorgeous marleydeco on the sides of the bone or wood piece).

Waiting gives the opposition too much time

We have the prohibs on the run; the time is NOW to press forward. Don't pull an 'Anzio'; don't think we can afford to dig in and wait or we'll be steamrollered. My generation made that mistake and we've paid for it for the past 30 years.

I agree to some extent,

But if you think of the progress even in the last 5 years or so compared to the previous 30 there is a huge increase in understanding and tolerance of marijuana by the general public.  There's a lot of momentum from Colorado and Washington and by 2016 America will have a good example of the economic, criminal and social effects that a state with legalized marijuana experiences.

In regards to those opposed to legalization, I think their argument has generally stayed the same for the last 15 years.  Not much will change in their way of attacking or opposing the views of those pro-legalization. 

The truth about marijuana  will spread and I predict that there will be a very solid majority voting to pass this bill in 2016.

Can't wait for the primary election every time.

Legalization has to spread like wildfire.

Wildfire doesn't wait every 4 years.

The polls have all indicated at least 50% support, why wait?  This is the will of the people.

Child Stealing

In Australia, Aboriginal children were taken from their mothers for racist reasons. Now you can't be racist but they still take the children.

I'm sure someone will put a ballot initiative up somewhere and I hope the others support them.

the only danger with legalization has always been

that only one (or in this case two) not so populated states legalize first because it can create a large underground market for exportation which would imbalance the crime reduction in legalizing the local market. If in the next four years that happens in colorado and washington, people are going to say "see, their crime didn't go down, the whole idea that legalizing pot could make crime go down was bullshit". The more states that legalize, the less underground market for exportation those states are going to have, and the more the real effects of legalization on crime that we've all dreamed of will take place. If it does go badly in colorado and washington (and it won't, it can only go so so, but the media and the opponents might portray it as having gone badly), the longer we wait, the more colorado and washington become to the US what holland is to europe: objectively speaking one shining example of a good policy which did not go as well as it could have because no other countries followed suit, and is easy to dismiss and portray badly because it did not go as well as it could have. California, obviously, being such a huge population, will be checkmate in terms of us legalizers being able to show the rest of the world what great benefits for crime reduction legalization can mean, and we better do it sooner rather than later.

that being said,

on the one hand there's some possibility co and was would become the holland of america, and on other hand, nowadays with the internet, there is likely no going back in terms of public opinion on legalization, so who knows. i'm definitely more optimistic than pessimistic about it, by far. i do think it's very likely that in 2016, no matter what, it's going to pass at least in cali if not in all the seven states, but there's the concern that if legalization doesn't move fast enough, it might stall because of the underground exportation (and possibly drug tourism) giving it a bad name. I don't know.

DdC's picture

We Doneed No Stinkin Badges or more lame Laws

We already have prop 215 that covers every individual growing personal stash and nothing written by the states will trump the CSA. So another attempt to stifle individuals and then end up getting the buyers clubs busted by the IRS. No Mas! Overturn the CSA if you want to sell it otherwise state initiatives in all mmj places have curtailed individuals rather than helped them. MMJ laws take what we already have from the Feds standard of individuals amounts. Round and round we go until we have no rights at all...

If the Roots are Poison, So be the Fruit!


If You Find Yourself Going Down the Wrong Road,

Turn Around!


Note. CA's Compassionate Use Act not the MMJ Act

2016 is an Eternity in Current Drug Law Reform

At the rate we’re seeing prohibition disintegrate before our eyes, by 2016, California will be able to pick up the powdery rubble of what’s left of a prohibitionist government and recast it into a gigantic monument to stupidity. 

Between the failure in 2010,

Between the failure in 2010, no consensus in 2012 and deciding to wait for 2016, California is now becoming a joke as far as further advancement in deregulation of prohibition. Ca. made some great inroads, but it's obvious squabbling between the different parties bringing alternative proposals is a joke on both those parties supposed qualifications and the citizens of the State.

The ONDCP, the DEA and DOJ/assigned Attorney Generals must be laughing their rear ends off!

Maybe not... while it is conceivable the individual proposal bringing groups may simply be somewhat at odds, one wonders if commercial interests, or even subversive members of the groups are to blame.

At any length, by 2016 all parties will have lost much of the momentum they once had with the public and wasted a great deal of donor funds.




daisy bram

what i'll remember most about this article is the daisy bram story. i don't recall reading about it previously on this site, and i've been reading drug war chronicle for years. her story could have been lost amongst all the other horror stories of the incredible evil that comes out of this war that, maybe more than anything else, makes me hate amerikkka. it's laws and those who enforce and prosecute them are vile. click on daisy's name in the article above, read about her, and listen to her agonizing cries of anguish as monstrous government thugs take her babies from her. amerikkka is pure evil. always has been, always will be, no matter how laws change. even if pot is legalized, for other reasons there will continue to be demonized, persecuted, martyrs. it's the way of orwellian 'authority'. dogmatic, puritanical, crazy, and cruel.

MPP is leaderless

after the bogus medical marijuana law passed in Mass

by MPP they should not be considered for ANY leadership

position in our movement. They only had to look to Rhode Island

on how to craft a law and they could not even google our law

to see how to write a decent bill for Mass.

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