by David Downs
Registered voters casting ballots in the fall elections of Colorado, Washington, and perhaps California will have a chance to enact historic cannabis legalization in 2012.
A Colorado group said it will file 155,000 signatures with the state Jan. 6 — enough to qualify the group's recreational cannabis legalization and tax initiative for the November ballot. Similarly, a Washington group said Dec. 29 that it filed at least 355,000 signatures to get on the Washington ballot for November.
In California, groups need to turn in 504,760 verified signatures by mid-April. One California legalization group stated it has 10,000 verified signatures, while two other groups that are circulating petitions don't have any signatures to announce.
The libertarian-leaning mountain state of Colorado seems the most promising, with an experienced, well-funded, well-organized group called the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Campaign co-director Mason Tvert said the group needed 86,105 verified signatures and will turn in almost double that amount for the state to verify Jan. 6. The group initially filed eight marijuana legalization initiatives in 2011, but “went with the one [it] preferred,” according to Tvert.
If it passes, the regular cannabis industry would be similar to the state's tightly regulated medical marijuana industry, with licensed growers, technicians, and retailers. Medical marijuana dispensaries could apply for a license to sell to anyone 21 or older with proof of age.
The campaign used paid signature-gatherers — like most groups do these days — as well as about 500 individual volunteers and 150 businesses. Various polls show about 50 to 54 percent of Coloradoans in favor of legalization, Tvert said.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will face opposition from law enforcement officials, as well as more radical reformers who want to repeal all cannabis laws — period.
Trees and DUIs
A group in Washington faces similar opposition from both sides. On Dec. 29, New Approach Washington turned in more than 355,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's Office, which will likely place “Initiative 502” on the ballot. Washington requires at least 241,153 verified signatures to circulate a ballot measure.
Initiative 502 also creates a system of licensed growers, processors and stores, plus a 25 percent excise tax at each stage. Adults 21 and over could buy up to an ounce of cannabis, one pound of edibles like brownies, or 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquids.
However, Initiative 502 also creates a blood-THC limit for drivers, which some of the more radical legalizers call immoral. Regular cannabis users who abstain and drive sober will still test over the limit — and go to jail — such critics note.
About 57 percent of registered Washington voters support legalization of personal possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and a 25 percent tax, according to a December poll of 613 registered voters conducted by Survey USA, with a margin of error of +/-4 percent.
They're all longshots, but in the lead is Regulate Marijuana Like Wine from retired judge James P. Gray of Orange County. Campaign co-organizer Steve Kubby of Lake Tahoe said the group has collected more than $100,000 in campaign donations for the last quarter of 2011. The group collected 10,000 validated signatures in its first two weeks of circulation using volunteers, he said.
“ ... Like Wine” needs 494,000 more verified signatures by its own deadline of March 20th, Kubby said. While that sounds like a lot, he is confident they will make it. “We are absolutely on target,” he said. “When we did Proposition 215 we struggled along until we finally got the funding we requested and we were able to wrap up the signature collection in about five weeks."
“We're getting the donations,” he said.
Kubby pointed to various polls by Gallup, and the Economist showing majority support for legalization. But the next 12 weeks are bound to be a nail-biter for the group and others.
The efforts to get the “Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012” on the ballot took damage Dec. 29 after the ouster of campaign director Craig Beresh.
Beresh blasted the group's funding and signature-gathering plan, stating in an email that it's “doomed before it starts. With no money and no experience or proper leadership this can't be done. Even the signature-gathering company can't guarantee that they can get it done on time,” he wrote.
"Repeal Cannabis ..." co-author and Santa Rosa attorney Joe Rogoway said Beresh was dismissed because “he was a nightmare to work with” and “toxic”. The group will begin gathering signatures in the New Year using paid gatherers. The group will not report taking in any campaign donations in the fourth quarter of 2011. It has until April 19 to hit its goal of 750,000 unverified signatures.
“It's still a lot,” Rogoway said, “but I think we are going to make it.”
In a distant third, a proposal to further decriminalize pot has neither fund, nor signature-gatherers, said San Francisco political consultant Bill Zimmerman, author of the proposal.
Way late to the game: two more petitions awaiting state approval to circulate — a proposal to regulate, control and tax medical marijuana statewide; and a fourth legalization scheme called the California Cannabis Hemp and Health Initiative.
California's fractious legalization community is in the process of sabotaging itself, Zimmerman said.
Rogoway was more hopeful.
“It's our victory to lose. I think we've learned from 2010, and a unity coalition is emerging,” he said. “I would say, 'Don't count California out'.”