Pot Legalization Efforts Now Down to One Major Initiative

And then there was one.

That's the way things look, anyway.

Multiple marijuana legalization efforts were competing to get on the 2016 ballot in California. Two of them appeared to have the backing and, more important, the money to make it.

But that wasn't such a good thing for the cannabis community: The last time Californians had a chance to legalize recreational weed, in 2010, the measure did not pass, by a relatively close margin. Two initiatives trying to do the same thing could dilute support and ensure defeat.

Legalization backers set out from the beginning to unify behind one initiative for 2016, but it didn't turn out that way. ReformCA represented a coalition of legalization supporters and came out of the gate with the most well-organized effort.

But last month a majority of its board members voted to suspend the ReformCA initiative. It was reported that the group endorsed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, a legalization effort endorsed by Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, after its drafters inserted language to appease the ReformCA majority.

However, Dale Sky Jones, chair of the board of ReformCA's parent organization, says the group had yet to get behind the Parker initiative, known by its acronym, AUMA.

"We have not joined forces with Parker's group," she says. "Stay tuned."

Likewise, the grandfather of California pro-pot groups, NORML, has yet to back AUMA.

Both organizations, ReformCA and NORML, indicate that the language proposed for the initiative hasn't gone far enough to ensure pot smokers' liberties.

The general idea is that AUMA, if approved, would tax and regulate marijuana alcohol-style while allowing adults 21 and older to possess 1 ounce of cannabis without fear of being handcuffed.

"AUMA contains a number of legal glitches and inconsistencies that will have to be fixed by the courts," California NORML said in a statement. "It also contains a number of complications and restrictions that users accustomed to the looser framework of Proposition 215 may find objectionable."

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"It's 60 percent legalization," Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML, says. "We haven't endorsed it yet."

"I just call it a softer, gentler Prohibition," Jones of ReformCA agrees. "I don't consider it legalization, either."

Still, the suspension of ReformCA's own effort means, essentially, there is one initiative that appears to have the cash and organization to make it to the ballot in 2016.

Jones says ReformCA could have come up with the $2 million to $3 million it takes to gather enough signatures to make the ballot. But then millions of dollars more would be needed for campaigning, particularly if there is serious opposition.

Komp and Jones note that the cash pledged for AUMA hasn't been seen, but they don't doubt it would show. 

Several grassroots efforts to legalize pot are aiming for the ballot, too, but given the economics of making it to November, few experts give them much of a chance.

So having one major, well-funded legalization initiative on the ballot isn't such a bad thing for the pro-pot contingent, even if it doesn't reflect all of its wants and needs.

The California Attorney General's Office says such an initiative could reap nearly $1 billion in tax benefits.

Jones says pulling back on the ReformCA effort "was about trying to avoid mutually assured destruction." 

Having two initiatives on the ballot would have appeased factions "to the detriment of ultimately winning in 2016," she says.

With Colorado's own recreational pot-legalization experiment resulting in wild success, and younger voters expected to show up to endorse a new president, Komp believes that "the tide's going our way" in November. 

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