Editorials

In the effort to legalize marijuana, know the key players and their plans

Think of California as a cannabis jungle. A year ago, 20 cannabis-related initiatives were proposed for the November 2016 ballot.

Slowly but surely, they’ve died or been abandoned. Now only four appear to be collecting signatures in time for the Nov. 8 election.

But California isn’t alone. Voters in 20 states are considering some form of legalization through 66 proposals – more than three per state. As expected, California has the most. There’s even a possibility that more than one could pass.

Entering this political weed patch, it pays to be careful. We’ve got time to figure this out, but we should get started now. If you know the players and their plans, it might help.

The Initiatives

Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA)

This is the odds-on favorite for passage with strong financial backing, celebrity endorsements and a lot of specifics. The executive summary alone is eight pages, covering details ranging from how much can be grown, driving while impaired, rules for growers, limits on where it can be sold, packaging, tax rates and directions on how to spend the tax money.

AUMA drew from the experiences of Colorado, Arizona and Washington, as well as the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy established by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. Key component: It would require anyone with a current medical marijuana card to reapply.

Initially, several groups refused to support it despite its pedigree. But it has been refined to answer a variety of concerns. The California Medical Association, state NAACP and many others now support it. It must gather 365,880 signatures by July 5.

Medical Control, Legalization and Revenue Act (MCLR)

Medical marijuana dispensary owners have thrown a lot of support into this initiative. The group is depending on social media and downloads from its website to accrue the 365,880 signatures it needs by Aug. 22.

Many believe it will go head-to-head with AUMA, which includes requirements for licenses and other fees that MCLR’s backers feel favor larger-scale growers with startup capital. There are other substantive differences, including a lower state excise tax and a prohibition on enacting new marijuana laws. It also would exempt medical marijuana collectives from licensing and local zoning laws, and allow medical cardholders to keep them and the tax breaks they would create.

If MCLR reaches the November ballot, AUMA supporters fear it will confuse voters and possibly condemn both measures.

California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI) or Jack Herer Initiative

Even those in favor of legalization consider this one “out there.” Proposed by people who believe cannabis can save the world, it would remove any restrictions on cultivation; void any local or state laws that conflict with it; and prohibit cities or counties from imposing any “prohibitive” fees, rules or laws.

It would reduce taxes on medical marijuana, and simultaneously make it more widely available and take it off the controlled-substance list. It would release those in prison on nonviolent marijuana charges and put caps on taxes and license fees.

This proposal has already failed to gain traction three times and last month lost a major donor. Its devotees have until April 25 to collect the 365,880 signatures.

Safe and Drug Free Community Initiative

If you don’t want to deprive those with legitimate medical needs, but hate the thought of marijuana being used for fun, this is your initiative. Roger Morgan, founder of the Take Back America Campaign, has enlisted several law enforcement and religious organizations. He has until May 23 to gather his signatures.

The players

Americans for Policy Reform is a group largely funded by medical marijuana dispensaries and small growers. It is the driving force behind MCLR. San Jose’s John Lee heads the group and is consulting with Stanislaus County on sensible rules.

California Cannabis Coalition is the group of true believers who came up with the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative. Its leader is Buddy Duzy, but it includes Tommy Chong (of Cheech & Chong) and someone named Dab Hashbars.

California Cannabis Unity Campaign sees cannabis reform as a human rights issue. The group is aligned with NORML, a nationwide organization, and the United States’ first “cannabis college,” Oaksterdam University. The group sponsored its own initiative but no longer is collecting signatures. NORML, meanwhile, has endorsed AUMA.

California Craft Cannabis Initiative is no longer collecting signatures for its initiative, but attorneys Omar Figueroa and Heather L. Burke are working to “incentivize” small-farm cultivation and cottage cannabis industries. They have endorsed MCLR.

California NAACP considered its own initiative, largely because it feels so many young African American men have been treated unfairly under existing laws. But state director Alice Huffman has joined forces with the Drug Policy Alliance and endorsed AUMA.

Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (aka, ReformCA) led the failed effort to legalize marijuana in 2010 and has abandoned its initiative this year. Leader Dale Sky Jones is chancellor of Oaksterdam University and has tacitly endorsed AUMA.

Drug Policy Alliance is a nationwide umbrella group whose California affiliate was among the five authors of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. State affiliate director Lynne Lyman and others were able to enlist Newsom and entrepreneur Sean Parker to their cause.

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