Top Marijuana Legalization Supporters Split Up, Threaten Separate Initiatives

Top Marijuana Legalization Supporters Split Up, Threaten Separate Initiatives
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

The prospect of legal sales of non-medical marijuana in California has a lot of activists, businesses and pot users excited.

In 2014, when a handful of initiatives failed to make the ballot, big-name marijuana supporters got their heads together and decided to unify in support of one strong, well-funded try. With Proposition 19 failing in 2010 and a "slight majority" (55 percent) of California's likely voters supporting recreational pot legalization today, there's a slim margin of error.

Undeterred and inspired by success in Colorado, which launched recreational sales in 2014, cannabis groups have their eyes on the nation's biggest marijuana market prize, California, for the presidential election cycle. But too many initiatives aiming for next year's ballot would surely dilute chances for success.

The ReformCA initiative from the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform was supposed to be the one that all the big players in state marijuana politics got behind. And, at first, it seemed that was the case.

ReformCA's website listed partners that included the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project. The coalition's separate site still lists the DPA and MPP as "coalition partners," alongside Americans for Safe Access, California NORML, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the California Cannabis Industry Association and the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance.

However, after we reported this week that "the coalition includes NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project," ReformCA had those organizations removed from its website.

What's happening?

The Drug Policy Alliance, one of the biggest players in marijuana politics, might go its own way. It's preparing its own language for circulation that could be filed later this month if DPA principals aren't happy with other initiatives being prepared, L.A. Weekly has learned.

Circulation language, which needs to be approved by the attorney general's office, is used to entice registered voters to sign petitions. If enough signatures are gathered, an initiative will be placed on the ballot.

"We want to have a plan B option that's ready to go in case [another] initiative doesn't represent and uphold the values and principles," says Lynne Lyman, the DPA's California director. "We're most concerned about a case where it doesn't move forward."

The DPA initiative, then, could end up being one of three serious proposals to tax and regulate recreational marijuana for those older than 21 in California. The other two could include one from Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, multiple sources confirmed, and the one from ReformCA.

Additionally, three or more grassroots campaigns to legalize pot also will be aiming for the ballot. Those include the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act and the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative.

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That's a lot of weed for voters to consume on a day when they'll also be choosing the next president of the United States.

Unity on legalization, says California NORML state coordinator Dale Gieringer, "was our plan. The people drifted around and became noncommittal."

Not all is lost, however, on the goal of seeing the major players get behind one proposal.

Lauren Vazquez, deputy director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, confirmed that it has asked initiatives using MPP's name to stop doing so. "Right now we're asking everyone not to promote their drafts with our name," she said.

However, Vazquez said, the group is in wait-and-see mode and will eventually throw its weight behind one proposal. "We'll get to vet all those different drafts and see which one we'll support," she said.

Part of the issue, as Vazquez sees it, is that the different initiative backers had to go back to the drawing board after the California Legislature recently passed a trio of bills that could provide a new framework for sales should legalization pass.

"Everyone went back and started rewriting," she said.

Gieringer of California NORML agrees, saying, "It's not that chaotic. It will all be clear in a few days. It's about last-minute negotiation."

Lyman of DPA seemed to second that emotion.

"We hope we can all get behind the initiative that has the best chance of winning," she said. "We hope there's only one by the time we get to Election Day."

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