Thursday, October 17, 2013
California State Committee to investigate legalizing of medicinal cannabis
"Newsom, ACLU look to legalize marijuana"
2013-10-17 by Joe Garofoli from "San Francisco Chronicle" [http://www.sfgate.com/politics/joegarofoli/article/Newsom-ACLU-look-to-legalize-marijuana-4904985.php]:
Marijuana advocates took a step toward making California the third state to legalize the drug for adult recreational use Thursday when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the American Civil Liberties Union opened a campaign intended to land a measure before voters during the next presidential election.
Newsom, who came out in favor of legalization last year, will lead a panel of academics, drug policy experts, law enforcement authorities, and officials from Colorado and Washington - the two states whose voters legalized recreational use last year.
The panel's goal: to answer legal and practical questions about the state-endorsed sale of marijuana before advocates move forward with a measure to tax and regulate the estimated $1.5 billion cannabis industry in California.
Backers intend to go to the voters in November 2016 - coinciding with the presidential election, when the electorate is likely to skew younger than average and thus more marijuana-friendly.
Even older voters, however, are becoming more open to marijuana legalization, according to a pair of recent polls.
One, which the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released last month, found that 60 percent of likely voters overall backed legalization. A survey by San Francisco pollster Ben Tulchin, commissioned by the ACLU and released Thursday, found that 65 percent of 1,200 respondents considered likely to vote in 2016 would support a measure to tax and regulate marijuana.
The state's voters rejected a legalization measure in 2010 by 53 to 47 percent.
"The fact is that the public's support for marijuana is increasing," Tulchin said. "The key, though, is that they want regulations and limits on this. And they want the revenue (from taxation) to fund essential services.
"They don't want to be able to go to Costco and buy it in bulk," Tulchin said.
What legalization entails -
At a San Francisco press conference Thursday, members of the ACLU panel acknowledged that voters will have many questions about what legalization would entail. Over the next year and a half, the group will travel around the state, holding town hall meetings and periodically issuing recommendations.
"People want to know what a DUI would be. Employers want to know what happens if their employee shows up stoned at work," said Craig Reinarman, a panel member and professor of sociology and legal studies at UC Santa Cruz who has written about drug policy for 30 years.
Looking elsewhere -
For answers, advocates will turn to officials and activists from Colorado and Washington, who have been wrestling with such issues since legalization measures passed in their states last fall. It wasn't until this week that Washington's Liquor Control Board adopted rules that will permit 334 retail marijuana stores to open statewide next year.
California advocates said they'd like to be able to outline what a regulatory system would look like before they go to the voters.
A large incentive for advocates is that federal officials are demanding more structure and regulation from states where some form of marijuana use is legal, in exchange for leaving them alone.
Federal prosecutors have periodically cracked down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, including some that local officials have characterized as model operations. In August, however, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole declared that federal authorities would go easier on "states and local governments that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form" and have "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems."
California is not one of those states.
Legalization "is not going to happen unless the public and, frankly, the federal government are persuaded that this can be done in a way that's safe, that makes sense and is tightly regulated," said Allen Hopper, director of criminal justice and drug policy for the ACLU of California.
Hopper said that although the ACLU and Newsom support legalization, several members of the panel do not.
As its chairman, Newsom is the centerpiece of the newly formed group and political star attraction. He's believed to be the highest-ranking elected statewide official in the country who supports legalizing marijuana.
But Tulchin, who was Newsom's pollster during his 2010 lieutenant governor campaign, and others say fronting this issue isn't a political suicide mission.
Newsom, Tulchin pointed out, was considered in political no-man's land back in 2004, when he allowed same-sex couples to marry at San Francisco City Hall. Less than a decade and many court battles later, hundreds of elected officials support gay and lesbian marriage rights.
"That gives him a lot of credibility on this," Tulchin said.
Other legalization groups are talking about going to the ballot in 2014. Hopper said the ACLU is not going to run any ballot measures or decide who should.
"We want to make sure that whatever coalition ends up doing this has the data and the facts and the research to do it right," Hopper said.