News Column

Pot-legalization Activists Aim for 2016 Ballot in California

Jan. 29, 2013

Peter Hecht, The Sacramento Bee


Inspired by victorious measures to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington, California activists are readying a new ballot push to expand legalization in the Golden State -- but not until 2016.

Drug policy groups, pro-legalization lawmakers and other marijuana advocates say they don't favor holding a California vote on legalizing recreational pot use in 2014, when there will be a smaller electorate than in a presidential year and likely less money and enthusiasm for a pot measure.

"We need to take a breath -- because we're California, and we're super complicated," said Amanda Reiman, California policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

The note of caution punctuated cries of "Yes we cannabis!" at a weekend marijuana conference in San Francisco, where advocates lined up to call for a 2016 California initiative to legalize possession and cultivation of marijuana beyond medical use.

Dale Sky Jones, spokeswoman for Proposition 19, a failed 2010 legalization measure, announced a new Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform to work on California marijuana issues, including a 2016 ballot initiative.

"We must make a commitment for legalization 1,380 days from now," she said.

The two-day state conference of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws also featured hand-wringing over the failure of state lawmakers to regulate California's existing medical marijuana industry in the face of a federal crackdown.

Last year, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, sponsored a bill to create a state board to regulate medical marijuana cultivation and use. It passed in the Assembly but stalled in the Senate.

Ammiano announced at the conference that he will seek to resurrect the bill at a Feb. 11 Senate hearing. He also pledged to introduce legislation to implement broader regulations in anticipation of advocates qualifying a 2016 initiative to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

Despite California's status as the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 and as home of the largest marijuana economy, many lawmakers remain fearful of the issue, Ammiano said.

"The main thing in Sacramento that I've been facing is the lack of support for any issue around marijuana," Ammiano said.

In Colorado, where residents last year voted to make marijuana use legal by a 55 to 45 percent vote, the state already had rigorous oversight of its medical marijuana industry, including state-licensed pot workers.

Reiman suggested similar regulations may be needed in California before voters sign off on legalizing pot beyond medical use.

Otherwise, she said, "Our opponents are going ... to say, 'You haven't figured out medical marijuana in 20 years -- and now you want to legalize?'"

Source: (c)2013 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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