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?