A blue ribbon panel released a report
today that outlines important issues that activists, businesses, law enforcement agencies and public officials should consider if Californians vote to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2016.
Chief among the panel’s findings is that the primary goal of legalization should not be to create greater tax revenue for the state, but instead to squeeze out the marijuana black market. Other recommendations are that every effort should be made to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, the environment should be protected from irresponsible growers, and that the legal marijuana market should be accessible to small businesses.
Convened by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the 24-member panel consisted of law enforcement officials, tax experts, legal scholars, doctors and a former White House drug policy advisor. The 93-page report is expected to influence the eight marijuana legalization initiatives that are currently being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office for the 2016 ballot. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a narrow margin of voters favor legalization, a fact that prompted Newsom to convene the panel.
However, Newsom, who supports legalization and has announced his candidacy for governor in 2018, said the report is designed to suggest a series of options rather than provide specific recommendations, which reflects the panel’s difficulty in agreeing on some of the more controversial aspects of legalization.
“Perhaps the most important message from the report is what are not recommending,” Newsom told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “We are not recommending maximizing the amount of tax revenue, we are not recommending that we promote and create a large industry, and we are not promoting and recommending the price of marijuana drop significantly. And the reason is all of those goals would depend on and encourage heavy use.”
The report’s authors called legalization an ongoing process and noted that the transition will not be fully realized simply by a ballot initiative, but rather will go on over the course of years, and that legalization activists should factor this into the writing of legalization ballot initiatives, and leave room for future tweaking. The report also concluded that California is very different from the four states and the District of Columbia which have already legalized cannabis. Southern California will have much different legal needs than Northern California because of differing climates, popularity of growing, and proximity to Mexico.
Dale Sky Jones, a longtime advocate and one of the chief organizers of the legalization effort known as ReformCA, said that her group, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, has taken the long view toward legalization. The nonprofit has conducted numerous panels with retired law enforcement officers, physicians, soccer moms, labor organizations and various community groups. ReformCA is generally considered the strongest of the eight initiatives currently vying for a place on the ballot.
“We plan to address public health concerns, packaging, retail sales and cultivation with flexibility, create funding mechanisms to support the regulatory and enforcement scheme, along with increased education and treatment,” Jones said. “But we will not create a tax structure with the expectation that cannabis tax revenues will be a cash cow for general government operations, nor entice folks into the black market.”