Marijuana legalization ballot measure proposed

Oakland-based activists filed a proposed ballot measure with the state Attorney General’s office today which would legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use.

Proponents Jeff Jones, executive director of the Patient ID Center (formerly known as the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative), and Richard Lee, founder and president of Oaksterdam University, submitted their “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010” for the Attorney General to prepare the title and summary that will appear on the initiative petitions; that process takes about 60 days. After that, it’ll be forwarded to the Secretary of State’s office so they can start gathering petition signatures to put it on the ballot in November 2010.

It’s the latest omen of impending changes in California’s marijuana policy. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill earlier this year that also would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for recreational use, initially estimating his bill would raise more $1 billion per year for the state’s beleaguered General Fund; the state Board of Equalization pegged it at about $1.4 billion per year.

And Oakland voters, facing a hefty municipal deficit of their own, last week approved a 15-fold tax increase on the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries, a move that garnered national media attention and could spark similar efforts in other California cities.

(Incidentally, I’ll be moderating a panel discussion – in which Richard Lee will be among the participants – on “Marijuana Economics: The Pros and Cons of California’s Cash Crop” at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, July 30 at the Commonwealth Club of California, on the second floor of 595 Market St. in San Francisco; tickets cost $12 for club members, $20 for non-members or $7 for students with valid ID, and are available online.)

“The momentum to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition just keeps building,” Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a news release today. Although his organization would prefer that such a measure wait until 2012 when support likely will be even greater, “we’d of course like to see it win. There’s simply no denying the intense groundswell for change.”

Lots more on differences between the proposed measure and Ammiano’s bill, and on the political implications of a 2010 vote on this measure, after the jump…

Gutwillig told me this afternoon that although this proposed initiative and Ammiano’s bill both move toward decriminalizing marijuana for adults aged 21 and over and include penalties for driving under the influence, they differ in a few significant ways.

“The Oakland initiative limits possession for adults at a maximum of one ounce, but the Ammiano bill in the Assembly assumes a scheme based on the regulatory system for alcohol, and therefore there is no maximum amount someone is permitted to possess,” he said. “They both allow limited personal cultivation… In the Oakland initiative, it’s a 25-square-foot of land that you own and in the Assembly Bill, it’s 10 plants but it’s going to be amended down to six plants so that it conforms with SB 420 (the legislation that enacted the state’s medical marijuana ID card program).”

More significant are the differences in sales and regulation, Gutwillig said.

“The Ammiano bill assumes a statewide regulatory scheme that mirrors the regulation of alcohol with some sort of regulatory body like the ABC (Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control) put into place, licensing cultivators, wholesalers and retailers with fees associated with all that licensing,” he said; those fees would generate about $400 million a year, the Board of Equalization estimates, while a $50 per ounce excise tax would raise $1 billion.

The proposed ballot measure also includes a $50 per ounce excise tax, he said, but rather than statewide regulation, it would leave up to each of the state’s 58 counties to come up with its own plan – a situation that’s the “equivalent of wet and dry counties” in states where alcohol is still a touchy subject. The measure would authorize the Legislature to create a statewide regulatory scheme at some later date.

“Within the marijuana reform community, there’s a lack of consensus about this approach – first of all the timing of the initiative in 2010, which is deemed by some advocates to be premature given polling that doesn’t indicate the supermajority that conventional wisdom is needed to pass a ballot measure,” Gutwillig said.

And there are debates to be had about the regulatory schemes, he said. County-by-county regulation is potentially “confusing and chaotic,” he said, but the proponents see it as the best, most immediate way to chip away at marijuana prohibition.

Politically, I think the idea of having this on the Nov. 2010 ballot – coinciding with the gubernatorial election – is fascinating. Jerry Brown was somewhat cannabis-friendly as Oakland’s mayor but has taken a more cautious path as state Attorney General, and almost certainly would continue that trend as a Democrat running a somewhat moderate, law-and-order general election campaign; Gavin Newsom as San Francisco’s mayor has proclaimed the War on Drugs a failure, but has opposed recreational marijuana legalization and taxation. While neither of them would be likely to want to get involved with such a measure, a Republican nominee – Meg Whitman? Steve Poizner? Tom Campbell? – could use it as a hot-button issue to drive more conservative, anti-marijuana voters to the polls.

Or not. Thoughts, anyone?

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.


  1. I’ll take one gram of reefer, not bill gram-reefer, thank you.

  2. Newsom is an idiot. He wants to tax me to death, and is pro gay but has some kind of moral objection to pot? He’d rather keep taxing us to pay for his social programs, but deny a viable revenue stream? No wonder blacks don’t vote pro gay. What Newsom is saying is that it’s OK for inner city kids to have gay sex but smoking weed is some kind of problem?

  3. “…a Republican nominee – Meg Whitman? Steve Poizner? Tom Campbell? – could use it as a hot-button issue to drive more conservative, anti-marijuana voters to the polls.”.

    I think Tom Campbell would be the most likely among all the potential candidates for governor to support decriminalizing pot.

  4. Actually, Campbell doesn’t support decriminalization. Just last week, I heard him say that although he supports medicinal use, he opposes the idea of decriminalization/legalization/taxation because he fears a legalized marijuana industry would become a money-laundering front for manufacturers, importers and dealers of still-illicit drugs such as meth and heroin.

  5. This is not a conservativer-liberal issue, but one of common sense. RON PAUL actively endorces ending the prohibition against Mari-Jane, and documents the original federal laws against pot as founded on total lack of information, hysteria and agenda in the 1937 period, and no valid study supported the irrational legislation. It is long past time to legalize marijuana!

  6. Taxing marijuana will be totally impossible. Marijuana is so easy to obtain that taxing it would be totally useless. There is no processing marijuana, just put a seed in the dirt, grow a plant, cut it down, dry it, and consume it. Marijuana plants can grow practically anywhere and is a lot more easier to get the finish product than tobacco. But there is a hell of a bonus to our economy if it did become legalized. For example; all the billions of dollars that are being spent illegal on marijuana purchases will no longer exist, so all those billions instead will more than likely be used for public transactions. This alone could keep billions of dollars circulating in the economy and produce a more reliable tax return. Just remember, you can’t tax something that anybody can grow anywhere at anytime and there is no way of controlling it. Take a look at how marijuana is thriving today.

  7. In 2002, I ran as a sacrificial lamb for a state legislative seat. At that time, the ONLY question which came up at EVERY event was, “What do you think about medical marijuana?” My answer then was, “It ought to be treated just like alcohol. No open container. No sale to minors. No driving under the influence. Otherwise, like alcohol, a legal product available to adults; taxed and regulated.” No one gave me guff on that answer, leading me to believe that the people are far ahead of the politicians on the question. I believe that if there is vigorous self-regulation within the medical marijuana industry to weed out the bad apples, then the public will see that the patients and providers do not pose some menace to society. Barring some public relations disaster (like, say, the LA hardship exemption being radically abused), the strides of the pharmagreen industry should help lay the foundation for the full legalization debate. If the JONES LEE ACT fits the “Just Like Alcohol” approach, I support their effort. — Bill Orton, in Long Beach

  8. I guess we gotta start somewhere…I always knew it would start in Cali.

  9. Not only is Marijuana/Hemp the #1 cash crop, and could help with our budget. Legalizing it could help keep the real criminals in jail and the non-violent “criminals(marijuana users)” out. This could also provide many unemployed california residents with a job, or and education (Oaksterdam University). If only we could speed up the legalization process! It has my vote!

  10. Debaters debate the two wars as if Nixon’s civil war on Woodstock Nation didn’t yet run amok. One need not travel to China to find indigenous cultures lacking human rights or to Cuba for political prisoners. America leads the world in percentile behind bars, thanks to ongoing persecution of hippies, radicals, and non-whites under banner of the war on drugs. If we are all about spreading liberty abroad, then why mix the message at home? Peace on the home front would enhance credibility.

    The witch-hunt doctor’s Rx for prison fodder costs dearly, as lives are flushed down expensive tubes. My shaman’s second opinion is that psychoactive plants are God’s gift. As God witnesses (Gen.1:12), its all good. The administration claims it wants to reduce demand for cartel product, but extraditing Marc Emery increases demand. His seeds enable American farmers to steal cartel customers with better product at lower price.

    The constitutionality of the CSA (Controlled Substances Act of 1970) is derived from an interstate commerce clause. This clause is invoked to authorize funding outlaws, endangering homeland security, avoiding tax revenue, and throwing good money after bad. Official policy is to eradicate, not tax, the number-one cash crop in the land. America rejected prohibition, but its back. Apparently, SWAT teams don’t need no stinking amendment.

    Nixon promised the Schafer Commission would support the criminalization of his enemies, but it didn’t. No matter, the witch-hunt was on. No amendments can assure due process under an anti-science law without due process itself. Psychology hailed the breakthrough potential of LSD, until the CSA halted all research. Marijuana has no medical use, period.

    The RFRA (Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993) allows Native American Church members to eat peyote, which functions like LSD. A specific church membership should not be prerequisite for Americans to obtain their birthright freedom of religion. Denial of entheogen sacrament to any American, for mediation of communion with his or her maker, precludes the free exercise of religious liberty.

    Freedom of speech presupposes freedom of thought. The Constitution doesn’t enumerate any governmental power to embargo diverse states of mind. How and when did government usurp this power to coerce conformity? The Puritans came here to escape coerced conformity. Legislators who would limit cognitive liberty lack jurisdiction.

    Common-law must hold that adults own their bodies. Socrates said to know your self. Statutes should not presume to thwart the intelligent design that molecular keys unlock spiritual doors. Persons who appreciate their own free choice of path in life should tolerate self-exploration for seekers. Americans’ right to the pursuit of happiness is supposed to be inalienable.

    Simple majorities in each house could put repeal of the CSA on the president’s desk. The books have ample law on them without the CSA. The usual caveats remain in effect. You are liable for damages when you screw up. Strong medicine requires prescription. Employees can be fired for poor job performance. No harm, no foul; and no excuse, either. Replace the war on drugs with a frugal, constitutional, science-based drugs policy.

  11. all i really feel i need to say about this is a person said in one of his comments i read that taxing is impossible because of how easy it is to grow it on your own an in that sense we wont make much money off it being legal i disagree i feel that i will make a lot of money simply because people will no longer have to grow it to have it look at lettice tomattos all this different things that can be easly grow an yet the farming businesses are not suffering from that.

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