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Willie Nelson Wants Marijuana Legalization "Teapot Party"

After his third pot possession bust in five years, country music legend Willie Nelson has had enough. He told former High Times editor Steve Bloom's CelebStoner web site Sunday it is time for a new, pro-marijuana political party.

Free Willie? Free the weed! (image from Wikimedia)
"There's the Tea Party. How about the Teapot Party? Our motto: We lean a little to the left," Nelson said. "Tax it, regulate it and legalize it, and stop the border wars over drugs. Why should the drug lords make all the money? Thousands of lives will be saved."

A Willie Nelson's Teapot Party Facebook page went online Sunday, as well.

Nelson was arrested Friday at a border checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas, on Friday after officials smelled marijuana. They searched the vehicle with drug-sniffing dogs and found six ounces of pot. Nelson was arrested and jailed until he posted a $2,500 bond later that afternoon.

Nelson's arrest was just one of what are likely to be around 900,000 pot busts this year, the vast majority for simple possession. Last year, more than 850,000 people were arrested for marijuana offenses.

Despite a raft of recent polls showing increasing support for marijuana legalization nationwide and majority support on the West Coast, the number of members of Congress showing any interest in moving toward marijuana legalization remains in the single digits OR can be counted on one hand. However, there have been rumors of support in some influential Democratic circles for marijuana legalization as a get-out-the-vote strategy. Dozens of Democratic organizations in California lent their endorsement to this year's Prop 19 ballot initiative, as did the Republican Liberty Caucus.

Austin, TX
United States

Cannabis Gets a Trade Association [FEATURE]

The marijuana industry is growing up. On Tuesday, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) officially came into being to represent the interests of the marijuana industry and its consumers. The group aims to influence policy in Washington, DC, just the same way any other industry does -- by lobbying the federal government to protect the interests of its members.

"We've seen such tremendous growth in this industry in the last five years," said NCIA executive director Aaron Smith. "It seems like the industry is not just surviving in the midst of economic decline, but booming. But it wasn’t represented in Washington, DC, like all sorts of other industries are. I just started talking to some of the major industry players, and just about everybody was really enthusiastic about jumping on board. This thing just blossomed."

The makeup of the NCIA's board of directors, with about one third of its 23 members from California, one third from Colorado, and one third from the rest of the country, correlates roughly with where the cannabis business action currently is. Most of the board members represent dispensaries or associated businesses, but there's also Kush magazine, Weedmaps.com, a pipe-market, an insurance company, and a hemp-seller.

At least three board members have well-known positions favoring marijuana legalization. As long-time head of the Marijuana Policy Project, Rob Kampia has put big money into legalization initiatives; Oaksterdam University's Dale Sky Jones was a spokesperson for the Proposition 19 legalization initiative; and as director of Sensible Colorado, Brian Vicente is working with others to get a legalization initiative on the ballot there in 2012.

"We wanted to be diverse in the types of businesses represented," said Smith. "It's not just dispensaries, it's all these other businesses creating thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars for the economy."

Becky DeKeuster is CEO of Northeast Patients Group, which will operate four state-licensed, nonprofit medical cannabis dispensaries in Maine. DeKeuster joined the NCIA board of directors and hopes to encourage others in the medical cannabis community to support the fledgling trade association. "I’m proud to be one of NCIA’s founding members," DeKeuster said. "This organization will be a great step forward not only for the medical cannabis industry, but also for the interests of the countless patients nationwide who rely on us to provide safe and effective natural medicine."

Another NCIA board member, Kush Magazine CEO Bob Selan, said that the trade association will be the force that finally unifies an extremely diverse industry. "In my years working for a top cannabis culture publication, I’ve met an astonishing number of talented individuals who are experts in their particular field. From cannabis cultivators to pipe manufacturers to crop insurance brokers, all will benefit from being collectively represented by the national industry association," Selan said.

The NCIA wants to attract at least 200 members in the coming year, Smith said. Regular membership costs $1,000 a year, a sponsoring membership is $2,500 a year, and a sustaining membership is $5,000 a year. If the group meets its membership goals, it could raise a minimum of $200,000 to go to work on Capitol Hill.

A sponsoring membership gives the member the right to vote on the group's board, half of which will be up for election each year. A sustaining membership gives the member the right to run for a place on the board. With the board setting policy, the NCIA is an association that will truly be run by its members.

"Our intention is to hire a lobbying firm," said Smith. "Right now, we have Steve Fox from MPP working part-time for us. As we raise funds, we'll be hiring lobbyists in the District and bringing in a full-time staff."

The group will work to get the federal government to let states set their own marijuana policies, and to ensure that federal agencies treat businesses compliant with state laws just like any other law-abiding businesses, said Smith. He pointed to agencies like the IRS and the Treasury Department, as well as the Department of Justice.

"We want cannabis-related businesses treated the same as any others," he said. "Now, we have things like banks not accepting deposits from legal medical marijuana providers. We may well be lobbying executive agencies to make administrative changes, as opposed to congressional action."

Smith is based in Phoenix, which, as he pointed out, is the "next wave" of legitimate cannabis businesses after Arizona became the 15th medical marijuana state earlier this month, but he'll be hitting the road to build the NCIA, he said. "I'll be traveling the country and getting new members to get the clout we need to make the change we want. Our lobbyist will be representing hundreds of businesses, thousands of jobs, and millions of tax dollars. It's really important we build membership as fast as we can."

The NCIA is in embryonic form right now, but it has the potential to open a new front in the battle to end the persecution of marijuana users and producers. The degree to which it succeeds will be a measure of the real maturity of the contemporary marijuana industry.

Washington, DC
United States

Prop 19 Counting on Broad Coalition, Late Ad Blitz to Prevail [FEATURE]

Los Angeles Times readers woke up Monday morning to find a Proposition 19 ad wrapped around Section A. A day earlier, they were greeted with a full-page ad in the Sunday newspaper. The print ads are part of a last minute advertising campaign that also includes ads on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "Colbert Report," millions of ad impressions on Google and Facebook, and a radio ad campaign highlighting the disproportionate harm that marijuana prohibition causes for communities of color is hitting five Southern California stations, three of them Spanish-language.

two page ad wrapping Sunday's LA Times
The ad campaign is being funded by a $1 million donation last month from financier George Soros and is being run not by Yes on 19, the official Prop 19 campaign committee, but by a political action committee controlled by the Drug Policy Alliance.

The ad campaign is part of a frantic effort to sway voters and get out the vote as the clock ticks down toward Tuesday night. A barrage of recent polls have shown the measure losing, but Yes on 19 said Sunday that victory is still within reach.

The campaign cited youth energy, the get out the vote effort using state of the art technologies, general voter disaffection, and pollsters' likely undercounting of turnout generating by interest in the measure. "Together, these factors put 19 in a better position to win on Election Day than is indicated by the mainstream media narrative," campaign consultants Dan Newman and Chris Lehane argued in a memo Sunday.

"In the final days of this historic campaign, millions of Californians will be exposed in every media platform to the Yes on 19 message," said Stephen Gutwillig, DPA's California director. "We’re communicating to young voters in particular because they bear the brunt of marijuana enforcement and their turnout is crucial to Tuesday’s outcome."

Soros and DPA are by no means alone in joining the fight to legalize marijuana in California. In addition to advancing the public discussion on marijuana policy -- a Google search for "California Proposition 19" generates nearly 7.9 million hits -- the fight to pass Prop 19 has also generated the broadest outpouring of support for pot legalization ever. From labor to law enforcement, from identity politics organizations to the blogosphere, from entrepreneurs to elected officials, from law professors to doctors, from political organizations all across the ideological spectrum, a nice chunk of US civil society has rallied around Prop 19.

Prop 19 logo projected onto stadium side, World Series game, spotted Thursday night (twitpic.com/31xdog)
According to the Prop 19 campaign's endorsements page, it has law enforcement backing from the National Black Police Association, the National Latino Officers Association, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara, retired California Judge Mike Grey, and dozens of other former and current police officers.

Prop 19 has been endorsed by more than a dozen prominent physicians, led by former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, and more than 75 leading law professors. It has been endorsed by dozens of California elected officials, the Berkeley and Oakland city councils and the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. Former Mexican President Vicente Fox even spoke out about it last week, saying "May God let it pass."

The measure has the backing of the California Green, Libertarian, Socialist, and Peace and Freedom parties, the Young Democrats, the Republican Liberty Caucus, and the Progressive Democrats of America, as well as 10 county Democratic Party organizations. The California NAACP, the Latino Voters League, the Northern and Southern California ACLU chapters are all on board, too, along with dozens of other state and local organizations. A mother's group was organized for the occasion.

In a real breakthrough, Prop 19 has also picked up significant support from organized labor. The Service Employee's International Union (SEIU) of California, the United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, and the longshoremen's union have all put their names and their political machines behind the initiative. So have a number of locals across the state.

Rolling Stone magazine publisher Jan Wenner kicked in $2,500, while insurance magnate Peter Lewis donated more than $200,000, Facebook co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker gave $70,000 and $100,000 respectively, while Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap president David Bronner kicked in $75,000, Men's Warehouse owner Robert Zimmer gave $50,000, and Washington, DC, activist and hemp store owner Adam Eidinger kicked in $25,000.

Other sizeable reported late donations from less prominent figures have come in as well. In the month of October, not counting the Soros million, the Prop 19 campaign has generated nearly $900,000 in donations.

All that money is making the last minute ad blitz possible. But that's not all that's going on in the final days. A massive phone banking and get out the vote effort has been joined by FiredogLake and its JustSayNow campaign, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, StoptheDrugWar.org, DPA, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, California Young Democrats, and California College Republicans.

For example, at UC-Berkeley, students are mobilizing around the initiative and are identifying it as the most important issue for young people in this election. In addition to tabling and canvassing, they held rallies this weekend, as did supporters in other parts of the state, all in an effort to create visibility and remind people to vote.

"Students are waking up and taking notice," said Kat Murti, a former president of Cal Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Yes on 19's Bay Area regional director. "Thousands of students lose financial aid each year due to marijuana offenses, including Berkeley students. This issue clearly affects and motivates them like no other political topic."

Let's hope that's the case, and that the ads, the media buzz, and the organizing draw out enough "unlikely voters" to change the world with a win on Tuesday.

CA
United States

Cops Say Yes to California Marijuana Legalization Measure [FEATURE]

It was a law enforcement trifecta in support of California's Proposition 19 Monday, with a phalanx of police, prosecutors, and judges coming out in support of the marijuana legalization initiative in a pair of early morning press conferences in Oakland and Los Angeles and a teleconference later in the day for those unable to attend the live events. The endorsements come with Prop 19 in a very tight race and Election Day just seven weeks away.

While, unsurprisingly, a large number of California law enforcement officials have come out in opposition to Prop 19, Monday's events were designed to show that law enforcement opposition to marijuana legalization is by no means monolithic. Organizers of the events also released a letter endorsing Prop 19 signed by dozens of current and former law enforcement officials.

"As police officers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and others who have labored to enforce the laws that seek to prohibit cannabis (marijuana) use, and who have witnessed the abysmal failure of this current criminalization approach, we stand together in calling for new laws that will effectively control and tax cannabis," the letter read. "As criminal justice professionals, we have seen with our own eyes that keeping cannabis illegal damages public safety -- for cannabis consumers and non-consumers alike. We've also seen that prohibition sometimes has tragic consequences for the law enforcers charged with putting their lives on the line to enforce it. The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market. If California's voters make the sensible decision to effectively control and tax cannabis this November, it will eliminate illegal marijuana distribution networks, just as ending alcohol prohibition put a stop to violent and corrupting gangsters' control of beer, wine and liquor sales."

The same themes were reprised in the three press conferences Monday. "I was with the LAPD when Nixon declared the 'War on Drugs' over 40 years ago and was one of the 'generals' on the front lines who helped implement that same failed drug policy that is still in effect today," said Stephen Downing, a retired deputy chief of police with the LAPD who is now a speaker with the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). "During my career, I not only saw the ineffectiveness of our marijuana laws up close but also witnessed the harm our prohibition approach inflicts on public safety. By keeping marijuana illegal, we aren't preventing anyone from using it. The only results are billions of tax-free dollars being funneled into the pockets of bloodthirsty drug cartels and gangs who control the illegal market."

Former LAPD sergeant and Los Angeles County deputy district attorney William John Cox added, "This November, Californians finally have a chance to flip the equation and put drug cartels out of business, while restoring public respect for the criminal laws and their enforcement by passing Proposition 19 to control and regulate marijuana."

"This is a very, very good opportunity to increase safety on our streets and highways, get officers out of drug law enforcement and back on patrol," said LEAP executive director Neill Franklin, a now retired 34-year law enforcement veteran. "In addition, it will give up more cops on the streets to focus on drunk and drugged driving. All of our police officers are trained in drug recognition,and this is an opportunity to get more cops out stopping vehicles and checking for those who are driving impaired."

Former San Jose police Chief Joseph McNamara, now a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institute, also took to the podium in support of Prop 19. "I've been studying drugs for years," he said, relating how he rose through the ranks of the NYPD before becoming chief in Kansas City and then San Jose. "We learned pretty quickly in New York that the people we were arresting were low-level offenders. All the arrests weren't doing any good. As cops, we felt the community would be better off if we were arresting robbers, burglars, and rapists. Enforcing prohibition took us away from protecting people on our beat," he said.

"I signed onto Prop 19 because I think it is a real opportunity for the voters to eliminate somewhere between 40 million and 200 million crimes overnight by making legal behavior that is today wasting so many law enforcement resources," McNamara continued. "Prohibition hasn't reduced the use of marijuana, and it also produces enormous funding for the cartels and the drug gangs. And violence, not because people are getting stoned on marijuana, but by the whole gangster syndrome that exists with prohibition driving prices up."

Passage of Prop 19 would be a "game changer," McNamara said. He challenged the media, which has been closely scrutinizing the measure, to apply the same rigorous evaluation to marijuana prohibition itself. "They are ignoring the details of the status quo," he said. "What do we have with this costly war against marijuana?" he asked. "Widespread violence, more use than if it were manufactured legally, and tremendous disrespect for the law."

Former federal prosecutor and California Superior Court Judge James Gray also spoke in support of Prop 19. "I was basically a drug warrior until I saw that the tougher we get with regard to nonviolent drug offenses, the softer we get with everything else because we only have so many resources in the criminal justice system," he said.

Gray also addressed the opposition's "what about the kids" argument by turning it on its head. "We are corrupting our children, not because of marijuana, but because of marijuana prohibition," he argued. "We are putting our children in harm's way. Ask our young people what's harder to get, beer or marijuana, and they will tell you it's easier to get marijuana, because alcohol is regulated and controlled by the government, and illegal marijuana dealers don't ask for ID."

Calling the Prop 19 vote "probably the most important election of my lifetime," Gray said the voters are ahead of the politicians. "I think we have a pretty good chance of doing something good for our state and for the country by passing Prop 19," he concluded.

Monday's law enforcement endorsements are just the latest in a long and ever-growing list of people and organizations lining up to support the measure, including labor unions, the National Black Police Association, the NAACP, doctors, politicians, political parties, and many more. Let's hope that list grows much longer in the remaining weeks until election day on November 2.

CA
United States

Marijuana Legalization: With No Cash, Doubts Grow Over Whether Washington State Initiative Will Gather Enough Signatures

After a weeks-long courtship with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) failed to be consummated with cash, organizers of the Washington state marijuana legalization initiative, I-1068 are, on one hand, vowing to fight on, and on the other, suggesting the effort could be called off soon for lack of funds.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempfest2009-1.jpg
Seattle Hempfest, 2009
Sensible Washington campaign chairman Doug Hiatt told the Associated Press Monday that the group had gathered 100,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot, but they need 241,000 valid signatures by July 2 to make the ballot. The group had been counting on the SEIU to help with paid signature gathering, but on Monday, the SEIU said it had decided not to support the effort.

Adam Glickman, vice president of SEIU Local 775, told the AP the union had contributed $10,000 to the campaign for polling and signature vetting and that research had suggested having the initiative on the November ballot could increase liberal turnout in the fall. But Sensible Washington's lack of financial resources raised questions about whether it could in fact get out the vote come November.

He also cited the ACLU of Washington's opposition to the initiative. The ACLU opposes the initiative because, it says, it does not provide a regulatory framework. The ACLU is correct -- the initiative simply removes marijuana offenses from the criminal code -- but Sensible Washington argues that if the initiative were to pass, the legislature and local authorities would be quick to act to set up a regulatory regime.

"There's some merit in the campaign," Glickman said. "It seemed worth looking at as a good policy proposal. But as we looked more into it, there were too many questions about the policy, too much division among the stakeholders. We concluded it wasn't the right time to get involved."

"It's really unfortunate, but you cannot do this without money," Hiatt said of the SEIU's decision. "I never intended I-1068 to be an all-volunteer effort. We'll make a decision in a couple days about whether we're going to go forward."

Campaign spokesman and initiative coauthor Philip Dawdy was less fatalistic. "Politics in this state stinks," he said in a press release Monday. "Marijuana smells better. It's disappointing that SEIU and others have walked away from us, but this campaign will fight on because the issue is simply too important."

"If we get some more volunteers, we can legalize marijuana in Washington State," added Jeffrey Steinborn, an initiative coauthor and Seattle-based attorney who has defended marijuana users for three decades.

The group said it has 20,000 petitions in circulation -- enough for 400,000 signatures -- and is urging activists to send them in sooner rather than later. But now, it's beginning to look like Sensible Washington's uphill battle just got a lot steeper.

Everyone Loves to Read About Marijuana Legalization

Popular political blogger/statistician Nate Silver says that this post about marijuana  legalization was his second most-read piece ever. He became famous for his presidential election polling, but the success of that one marijuana post just shows the intense public interest in reform, especially on the web.

Everywhere you look, even the mainstream press is picking up on the fact that people want to talk about this. Just look at NPR's The New Marijuana series, which has churned out more marijuana stories this week than I have time to read. CBS has been doing the same thing with Marijuana Nation, CNBC had a big hit with Marijuana Inc., and even Fox News has recruited John Stossel and Judge Napolitano to trash the drug war on Rupert Murdoch's dime.

If you think I'm exaggerating what's going on here, just look at the Google Trends results for the search term "marijuana legalization":



It's incredible to see our progress displayed so vividly, and anyone who doesn’t want legal marijuana in America should think twice about wasting their time trying to stop it. More people are scanning the web for news about marijuana legalization than ever before, and the media is working hard to give them exactly what they want, which results in yet more people reading and searching for news about marijuana legalization.

The whole process cascades and feeds on itself, spontaneously turning longtime observers into voices for reform, and literally creating more news by emboldening activists to launch new campaigns. It's awesome, and it absolutely won't stop until our marijuana laws are fixed forever.

Feature: Washington Marijuana Legalization Initiative Aims for November Ballot

There is a chance, albeit an outside one, that the entire West Coast could go green in November. Last week we noted that the California tax and regulate initiative had made the ballot, and reported on the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act initiative's ongoing effort to make the ballot. This week, we turn our attention to Washington state, where yet another marijuana legalization initiative campaign is underway.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/hempfest2009-1.jpg
Seattle Hempfest, 2009
Sponsored by Seattle Hempfest head Vivian McPeak, marijuana defense attorneys Douglass Hiatt and Jeffrey Steinborn, and journalist-turned-activist Philip Dawdy and organized under the rubric of Sensible Washington, initiative I-1068 would legalize marijuana by removing marijuana offenses from the state's controlled substances act.

As the official ballot summary puts it:

"This measure would remove state civil and criminal penalties for persons eighteen years or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana. Marijuana would no longer be defined as a 'controlled substance.' Civil and criminal penalties relating to drug paraphernalia and provisions authorizing seizure or forfeiture of property would not apply to marijuana-related offenses committed by persons eighteen years or older. The measure would retain current restrictions and penalties applicable to persons under eighteen."

"We've had to go this route because the legislature isn't getting the job done," said Dawdy. "We had a decriminalization bill and a tax and regulate bill, and neither one could even get through committee. We've basically hit a brick wall in Olympia, and as activists, we're tired of waiting. The state is spending way too much on arresting, prosecuting, and sometimes jailing people for marijuana crimes. We have 12,000 people arrested for marijuana offenses every year. It's got to stop. If the legislature can't get it done, we have the initiative process."

The initiative campaign needs to gather 241,000 valid signatures by July 2. According to the campaign, they are shooting for 350,000 signatures and are about 20% of the way toward their goal. So far, it's an all-volunteer effort.

"We've been battling the weather, which has been horrible, and that makes it really difficult to work outdoor events," said Dawdy. "You can't gather very many signatures when it's raining. But we are starting to get inundated with signature petitions, and we remain confident we can get enough to make the ballot."

The campaign is finding support in some unusual places, Dawdy said. "The issue is really popular here, and one of our best hits was at a gun show. Libertarians and conservative Democrats go to those things. We're probably going to have a gun show coordinator for western Washington, and try to target those events. And we can use retired police officers instead of stinky hippies."

There are no signs yet of any organized opposition, but Dawdy said that was no surprise. "I would have been surprised if any popped up this early. I wouldn't expect it until we make the ballot, and then there will probably be some law enforcement group showing up to float the gateway theory and all that stuff."

"We're doing this on a shoestring," Dawdy explained. "We're getting online donations, a few in-kind donations, a few thousand-dollar checks, but funding from the national organizations hasn't really gelled yet. But the medical marijuana campaign in 1998 didn't get any big money until May, and they got on the ballot and one. I think we can do the same thing."

Unlike California and, to a lesser degree, Oregon, there is little money to be had from the Washington medical marijuana community, Dawdy said. "It isn't like California here," he said. "There are no $70 eighths, it's very much a nonprofit kind of system. What profits there are are small and underground, and they're underground for a reason."

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director Allen St. Pierre said that the national NORML board of directors had endorsed the initiative and that local chapters were involved in the effort, but that NORML wouldn't do much more than that until -- and unless -- the initiative makes the ballot, something St. Pierre suggested he doubted would happen.

"I'm very skeptical about their prospects," he said. "These guys said from the beginning they didn't have any money, and no initiatives not funded by billionaires have actually made it, yet they still decided to move forward. I told them NORML can't do much until they get on the ballot -- it's not worth the time and effort to point people towards initiatives that haven't made the ballot."

"We're getting sick and tired of being written off by people 3,000 miles away," retorted Dawdy. "That's just not fair, and it suggests that they don't really know Washington state despite coming out for three days each summer for Hempfest. People here are sick and tired of the situation, and legalization and reform are issues that poll strongly. People back East don't appreciate this and they don't understand this is one of the few issues where you can actually make the ballot with an all-volunteer effort."

That's not the only flak the initiative campaign is getting. One of the leading drug reform groups in the state, the ACLU of Washington has refused to endorse the initiative on the grounds that it does not include a regulatory system for marijuana. In a February statement, the Washington ACLU's lead person on drug policy, Allison Holcomb, laid out its arguments:

"The ACLU supports marijuana legalization and will continue to work toward that goal. However, we will not be supporting I-1068 because it does not provide a responsible regulatory system."

"We believe that full marijuana legalization will be accomplished only through implementation of a controlled regulatory system. Marijuana should be placed under controls that not only remove criminal penalties for adult marijuana use but also address the public's concerns about health and safety. It is unrealistic to regulate it less than tobacco or alcohol."

"We're aware that some believe that I-1068's passage would force the legislature to adopt such regulations in 2011."

"However, the ACLU isn't willing to support an incomplete initiative in hopes that the Legislature will fix it. We believe that when seeking support of such an important and complicated issue, the public should be presented with a carefully considered and well-vetted proposal."

But the initiative campaign argues that Washington's stringent single-issue rule for initiatives blocks it from concocting an elaborate regulatory scheme. Passage of the initiative would force the legislature to then enact regulations, they said.

"All our initiative does is remove criminal penalties for adult use, possession, and cultivation," Dawdy explained. "That will put it back in the hands of the legislature to come up with sensible civil regulations. We would have loved to do regulations in the initiative, but the single issue rule on initiatives in our state is very strict."

The Washington ACLU also argued that support for legalization is less than solid and that a defeat at the polls would be "a significant setback" for the drug reform movement.

And so things stand as April begins. Initiative campaigners have about 90 days to gather the requisite signatures and make the ballot. Maybe then they'll begin to get some respect. And maybe then they can join California, and hopefully, Oregon, in turning the West Coast green.

Feature: Two Marijuana Legalization Initiatives Have Been Filed in California for Next Year's Ballot

Last month, Drug War Chronicle reported that cannabusinessman and dispensary operator Richard Lee, creator of Oaksterdam and founder of Oaksterdam University, had assembled a team of activists, attorneys, political consultants and signature-gathering pros for an initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in California they hoped to place on the November 2010 election ballot. Drug reform organizations were apprehensive, however, worrying the proposed initiative was too soon, the polling numbers weren't high enough, and that a loss could take the steam out of the legalization push for years to come.

https://stopthedrugwar.org/files/devilsharvest.jpg
Is reefer madness (e.g. marijuana prohibition) winding down?
Lee has pushed forward, such concerns notwithstanding; on Monday he and Oakland medical marijuana pioneer Jeff Jones filed the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010.

And then there were two. On July 15 -- two weeks prior, but with less heraldry -- a trio of NORML-affiliated Northern California attorneys filed the Tax, Regulate, and Control Cannabis Act of 2010.

To avoid confusion, we'll refer to the second as the Omar Figueroa initiative (coauthored by Joe Rogoway and James Clark) and the first as the Richard Lee initiative.

"Cannabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition, is an expensive and ineffective waste of taxpayer money," said Figueroa.

"California's laws criminalizing cannabis have failed and need to be reformed," said Lee. "Cannabis is safer than alcohol. Cannabis doesn't cause overdose deaths or make people violent like alcohol. It makes sense to regulate cannabis like alcohol, instead of prohibiting it completely."

The Figueroa initiative is broader and would bring complete legalization under state law, while the Lee initiative would create semi-legalization, allowing adults to possess up to one ounce and grow their own in a 5' x 5' garden space. The Figueroa initiative would allow the state of California to tax marijuana sales, while the Lee initiative would allow cities and counties to tax marijuana sales. The Figueroa initiative would end marijuana prohibition statewide, while the Lee initiative would give cities and counties the local option to tax and regulate or not, but would also provide that people could still possess and grow the specified amounts even in locales that opt out of regulating.

"Our initiative repeals cannabis prohibition; Richard's just narrows the scope," said Figueroa, a San Francisco attorney specializing in medical marijuana and marijuana cultivation cases. "People would not be free to possess more than one ounce and there would be limitations on growing your own. And our initiative is going to have that big economic impact statement for the state budget that Richard's will not," he said.

"We worked for many weeks with Richard on his initiative, and we support both, but we think ours would result in more far-reaching change and would generate money for the state through tax revenues," Figueroa added. "We want to stimulate debate and provide an alternative to Richard's initiative, which we don't think would create enough change."

The initiative effort is moving forward and preparing to begin signature-gathering, said Figueroa, but its prospects are iffy. "We don't have the deep pockets Richard has," he said.

Lee has signed a $1.05 million contract with a signature-gathering organization and says he has already raised half of that sum. "We are confident we will be on the ballot," he said. "Then we need to raise another $10 to $20 million to win, depending on the opposition."

The initiatives come as the noise level around marijuana legalization in California grows ever louder. An April Field poll put support for legalization at 56%. Gov. Schwarzenegger said this year that the issue should be discussed, and the state Board of Equalization's estimate that legalization could generate $1.4 billion in revenue for the state has generated considerable interest. That estimate was a response to a bill before the legislature, Rep. Tom Ammiano's AB 390, which would legalize marijuana and allow the state to tax it.

Meanwhile, voters in Oakland last week overwhelmingly supported a special dispensary tax, another Richard Lee effort. And now the Los Angeles city council is considering doing the same thing.

The Figueroa initiative would appear to have more appeal to hard-core marijuana legalizers, but the Lee initiative has more money behind it and is more likely to actually make it to the ballot. That is making the Lee initiative the subject of more discussion as to its likelihood of passage. That discussion in turn has opened a window on just how complex the issues around legalization are, how difficult it is to create a "perfect" legalization initiative, and how difficult it is to decide if this is the time to act or whether it would be premature.

The major national marijuana and drug reform groups are generally skeptical that a legalization initiative can win in California in 2010. They also worry about the impact of a defeat on the movement.

"We're concerned about the timing and we're not sure it's the best worded initiative," said Dan Bernath, assistant communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project. "It is getting the conversation about marijuana policy reform going, but we're concerned it could set the movement back if it loses. We're more interested in Ammiano's bill," he said.

"We would like [the Lee initiative] to win," said Steven Gutwillig, California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance, whose funding of Proposition 215 helped make medical marijuana legal in the state, "and we're not that concerned that losing would be an enormous setback to the movement unless it really loses big. We are looking to end marijuana prohibition as quickly and effectively as possible, and if this is the way to do it, we're all for it."

But unlike the Prop. 215 effort, DPA will be cheering from the sidelines. "We're not an official proponent of this and we're not in a position to fund a campaign of this scale anytime soon," said Gutwillig. "We're still relatively fresh from the $7.5 million campaign to pass Proposition 5 sentencing reforms, which didn't go the right way."

Lee is optimistic, and he thinks that now, rather than 2012 as others have suggested, is the time. "We have poll numbers that show a majority, and we have the terrible economy working for us," he said. Lee pointed to the budgetary crisis afflicting California cities and counties, which lost big in the latest state budget. "The governor and legislature stole a bunch of money from the cities and counties, and this could help them recoup some of the money they're losing," Lee argued.

Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML, worries the lack of a provision for taxation directly by the state will hurt the initiative at the polls, even if the potential revenues for counties and cities are equivalent. "The state always writes a financial analysis on initiatives, and I suspect this one will say uncertain or none." Gieringer pointed to the Board of Equalization's $1.4 billion estimate. "The tax benefits make this a sexy issue, and sacrificing that sacrifices most of the appeal of legalization to non-users."

Still, if it's happening, CANORML will support it. "We support anything that improves the marijuana laws," said Gieringer. "There is a lot of enthusiasm right now, and people want to do something for legalization."

"Omar Figueroa and Richard Lee are both pushing the envelope," said national NORML head Allen St. Pierre, who was more sanguine about the effort than MPP or DPA, though only slightly. "These initiatives are a good thing; I just don't know if they will be successful. Even if they aren't, they will move the ball forward on the public discussion of the issue. When we have public discussions about reform, the longer and deeper the discussion, the more it breaks toward reform."

The Lee initiative in particular is a harbinger of things to come and demonstrates changing dynamics within the California marijuana reform movement, said St. Pierre. "What is really changing drastically is that this will be driven by cannabusinesses' ability to raise and spend money, not by one or two elite wealthy people whose stake in this is magnitudes less than say, Richard Lee, who has created Oaksterdam."

There is another reason for the local option, said Lee. "It gets us around federal law. We don't have any other way until federal law changes because the state would be in conflict with federal law. But we had cities taxing medical marijuana outlets; that's why we wrote it that way."

Will the competing initiatives both make it to the ballot? If they do, can they win? Will it fly in Fresno? Will the threat of an initiative spur the legislature to act on the Ammiano legalization bill? Stay tuned. It looks like very interesting times are ahead.

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