Legalization 2012 Forecast: Mad Hype, Little Change



The first marijuana legalization effort of California's 2012 election cycle isn't off to a great start.

Despite token mainstream press from the likes of the Washington Post and California Watch, the ballot initiative best known as “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine” has little to show for itself, and almost no funds.

The hype so far has, in fact, yielded a teachable moment: Almost anyone can file an initiative in California and few of them go anywhere. Those serious about legalization should be looking at the fundamentals.

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For starters, the text of the initiative keeps changing. The “Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012” received its official “title and summary” from California Secretary of State Debra Bowen's office July 22. But state officials removed “regulate” from the title and labeled it “Marijuana Legalization. Initiative Statute,” because the initiative “[wasn't] regulating it to their satisfaction,” according to Steve Kubby, the Lake Tahoe libertarian activist who cofounded the group Tax Marijuana 2012 with retired Orange County judge Jim Gray.

Kubby said that as a result, they’re starting over, and “putting in more carefully drafted language.”

Once it finalizes, resubmits, and gets a new title and summary, the group will need an estimated $1.4 million to pay signature-gatherers and obtain roughly 800,000 signatures in 150 days — and that's just to get the initiative qualified for the November 2012 election. It could take $5 to $10 million to win.

According to Kubby, the group has about $10,000 in its campaign coffers. The big donors associated with Prop 215 in 1996 and last year's failed Prop 19 aren’t donating right now, Kubby said. (In 2010, about 46 percent of California voters approved the tax and regulate pot initiative, which ultimately failed by about 345,000 votes.)

So Tax Marijuana 2012 is taking a different tack in fund-raising. The group plans to hold its first fundraiser (.pdf) on September 1 in Newport Beach, with the intention of tapping funds in conservative Orange County.

“There's a lot of high net worth people that we're going to be talking to,” Kubby said.

However, just what these high-rollers will be donating to remains in flux. Tax Marijuana 2012 attorneys are currently redrafting their wording to better specify the new pot-regulating powers of the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The latest draft is available online, and while the spirit of the act is clear, the details remain vague.

It calls for pot industry fees and regulations “using the grape and wine industry as an example” — wording that Kubby acknowledges is not very explicit.

As it reads now, the initiative also would decriminalize pot from seed to sale and subject it to sales tax. Small, non-commercial grows of up to 25 indoor plants and twelve outdoor plants would be exempt from commercial regulations, just as home-brewers are exempt from state alcohol regulations. There's also no weight limits on how much pot an individual can possess, and a clause that bars local police from enforcing federal marijuana law.

Going back to the drawing board is part of a bigger plan, Kubby said. “This feedback tells us what changes we need to make,” he said of the state officials’ decision to remove the word “regulate” from the title — at least for now. “It was a learning experience for us.”

The true make-or-break moment for Tax Marijuana 2012, he said, will come by perhaps the end of November this year. “If we don't have six figures in the bank December 1, you're not going to take us very seriously,” he said.