Source:   By Chris Conrad / The Leaf Online  March 24, 2014

A breakdown of the initiatives in the state

With four marijuana legalization initiatives vying for the California ballot, one thing is clear: All four sets of reforms are better than the state’s current prohibition. The initials and names are confusing, but the core question is, which one or ones will voters get to vote on?

The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative (CCHI) has been gathering signatures the longest. TheMarijuana Control, Legalization and Regulation (MCLR) is the longest and took in the greatest amount of direct input from the public. A third version was drafted by a group of long-time reform activists, including remnants of the unsuccessful 2010 Prop 19 campaign. None of these has visible financial backing to make the ballot.

The fourth and most likely candidate to emerge came out of left field with funding from the late philanthropist and cannabis reformer, Peter Lewis. As a farewell gift to California before he died last year, Lewis and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) had an initiative drawn up that protects medical marijuana laws, puts the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) in charge of commercial licensing but not home grows, attempts to correct mistakes made in Washington State, addresses the recent federal policy outlined by the Obama administration and searches for middle ground between the reform community and the more mainstream voters who may not know much about cannabis but do hold the electoral balance in their hands. The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act (CRTM) was filed December 18, 2013.

Predictably, in its effort to soothe the Feds and centrist voters, the initiative does not meet the most far-reaching or even some of the more moderate and attainable demands of the cannabis community. For a few examples, it does not repeal the existing laws, reduce penalties on the existing statutes or require that every locality allow marijuana sales to adults. It creates an excise tax of 25%, not including sales taxes, and divvies up the money among state and local coffers, as a financial incentive for localities to license cannabis businesses.

The language repeatedly seeks to protect existing medical marijuana laws and licenses and would make it legal for adults 21 and older to carry or give away an ounce of bud at any given time and grow up to six plants and store the harvest in their home. People with greater need will still need to get a doctor’s note. The ABC will handle the licensing process and regulations statewide while localities will be able to control zoning, hours of operation, etc. Local governments could not ban personal possession or cultivation. They could ban commercial production and sales, but they can’t interfere with state licensed activities, such as transportation. It limits property seizures and adds new civil protections for cannabis consumers. It broadens and incorporates the state’s hemp farming law directly into the text of the initiative.

David Bronner, President of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, the state’s largest consumer of industrial hempseed oil, has already voiced his support for the effort. Bronner is confident that the initiative will be a big step forward for industrial hemp. “Our movement should not let the good be the enemy of the perfect,” he wrote. “If major movement funders are willing to throw down the resources required to pass marijuana reform in California in 2014 via DPA’s measure, versus some other version or waiting for 2016, we should celebrate and do what we can to help make it happen.”

Likewise Attorney Joe Elford, former counsel for Americans for Safe Access, told that the initiative would at least put an end to efforts to ban personal medical marijuana grows around the state and would open the door for more affordable access for patients who henceforth would not even need a doctor’s approval unless their personal need exceeds six plants and one ounce of medicine.

The authors heard the complaints from activists in Washington. The I-502 marijuana legalization bill voters passed there in 2012 banned home grows, set “per se” limits for driving under the influence and set up a taxation scheme that essentially doubles the cost of the end product to the consumers. Seeing the acrimony those provisions caused, Lewis steered back towards the activist community on all those issues: No local bans on personal gardens, no per se driving limits, and a much lower excise tax.

The language as originally filed came as a surprise to California activists, who protested that it would have interfered with the new state hemp law, capped gardens at four plants and set a 1,000-foot distance barrier between commercial facilities and schools. To their credit, the authors responded to criticism and promptly revised the text. Now it incorporates a recently passed state hemp law that was supported by Vote Hemp, allows six plants per household, similar to the Medical Marijuana Program Act, and makes the 1,000-foot rule discretionary rather than mandatory.

It’s no secret that the most onerous of its policies, such as the 1,000-foot rule, were adopted simply avoid problems with the Federal government. That in itself angers some activists, who fought in the California state legislature to get that number reduced to 600 feet. They’ve also seen the Obama administration make a similar promise about allowing medical use — then attack the medical marijuana distribution network with more force than Presidents Clinton and Bush combined. We can’t trust Obama, activists argue, and California should stand up to the Feds rather than formalize bad federal policy through a voter initiative.

Many reformers, including California NORML, think it would be better to hold off on an initiative until 2016 when they see a younger and more favorable voter pool passing a stronger reform that repeals cannabis prohibition and provides better access statewide with less local control over the industry. There had been a consensus among a number of activist groups and interested parties, including DPA and the Marijuana Policy Project, that the 2016 Presidential election would be the optimum time for a more progressive legalization initiative that was already being drafted by the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR).

One of the reasons that 2016 was targeted was to be a show of unity. The 2014 efforts were left to two grassroots efforts. The CCHI is a broadly written law that legalizes the plant, frees marijuana prisoners and fits onto a single page, while the more detailed “open-source” MCLR seeks to address a multitude of foreseeable circumstances. Both of those efforts are ongoing, and a fourth initiative has been filed since the Lewis initiative, this one drawn from the CCPR draft, revised and filed by author Ed Rosenthal. The fact that at least three of these efforts have told that they intend to file again for the 2016 election suggests that the hope of a unified front is probably unattainable.

This is where the momentum that has been building since 2010 and a sudden surge in support for legalization in the 2013 polls came into play. The question was repeatedly raised at the DPA-sponsored International Drug Policy Reform Conference last October: Is it time to dab while the titanium is hot? If 2014 is a winnable year that does see legalization in several other states, having California weigh in with a successful, albeit imperfect law, could have a tremendous impact on 2016 votes elsewhere.

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