The Smoke Has Cleared on the Project to Legalize Marijuana in the Golden State
After several years of jostling since the defeat of Proposition 19 in 2010, the smoke has cleared in California and it now appears that a single, well-funded marijuana legalization initiative will go before the voters next November. That vehicle is the California Control, Tax, and Regulate Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), backed by Silicon Valley tech billionaire Sean Parker, WeedMaps head Justin Hartfield, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), and a growing cast of state and national players.
AUMU has sucked all the air out of the room for other proposed initiatives, most notably the measure from the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (ReformCA), which had been widely assumed to be the effort around which the state's various cannabis factions could coalesce.
Instead, more than half of the ReformCA board members have now endorsed AUMA, including Oaksterdam University founder and Prop 19 organizer Richard Lee, California Cannabis Industry Association director Nate Bradley, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) head Neill Franklin, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) deputy director Stacia Costner, and Dr. Bronner's Magic Soap head David Bronner.
That move came earlier this month, after proponents of AUMA amended their initial proposal to provide safeguards against child use and protections for workers, small businesses and local governments that also bring it closer in line with Newsom's Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy.
“These amendments reflect a collaborative process of public and expert engagement and make an extremely strong measure even stronger,” Donald O. Lyman, the measure’s lead proponent said in a statement. “This measure now includes even more protections for children, workers, small business, and local governments while ensuring strict prohibitions on marketing to kids and monopoly practices.”
"We have carefully reviewed amendments submitted by the proponents of the AUMA, and we're convinced it's time to endorse that initiative and unite everyone behind a single, consensus measure to achieve a legal regulated system, which a majority of voters have consistently said they want," Bronner said in a statement.
Here's what AUMA would do:
- Local control. Cities and counties can regulate or totally prohibit commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, sales, and deliveries, but they can't ban deliveries merely passing through their jurisdiction. They can ban even personal outdoor grows, but not indoor ones.
- Personal possession. Adults 21 and over can possess up to an ounce or eight grams of concentrate.
- Personal cultivation. Adults can grow up to six plants per household, if their localities don't ban personal outdoor grows. Also, landlords maintain the right to ban cultivation or even possession on their property. Growers can possess all the fruits of their harvest.
- Social consumption. Localities may allow on-site marijuana consumption at designated businesses.
- Public consumption. Not allowed.
- Taxation. A 15% excise tax on marijuana products, plus state and local sales taxes, plus a $9.25 an ounce cultivation tax on buds and a $2.75 one on leaves. Also, counties may impose additional taxes, subject to a popular vote.
- Regulation. The state agencies empowered to regulate medical marijuana under this year's three-bill regulation package have their briefs expanded to include non-medical marijuana as well.
- Licensing. Provides tiered licensing based on business type and size, but to protect small businesses bars the issuance of the largest tier of cultivation licenses for five years and creates a special licensing tier for "microbusinesses."
- Employee drug testing. Still allowed.
- Criminal offenses. Possession of more than an ounce, cultivation of more than six plants, unlicensed sales, and possession for sale are all six-month misdemeanors, reduced from felonies, although they can still be charged as felonies in some cases.
This past weekend, AUMA picked up the support of Tim Blake, organizer of the Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, which this year drew a record crowd to the annual growers' competition/trade show. "I'm going to endorse this thing," Blake told activists assembled for a legalization debate.
His endorsement drew a mixed reaction from the crowd, many of whom want to see a more wide open form of legalization. That's a sentiment that's shared by some prominent figures in the state's marijuana community. Dale Gieringer, a ReformCA board member and longtime head of Cal NORML is one of them.
"This is like 60% legalization," he said. "Some people on the board endorsed it, but I didn't endorse, and Cal NORML doesn't endorse it. We're a consumer organization, and from the standpoint of consumers, the AUMA is the worst drafted one," he said, ticking off a list of issues.
"Cities can still ban dispensaries, deliveries, and outdoor cultivation," he noted, "and it makes it illegal to consume publicly. There are a lot of medical marijuana users in San Francisco where the only legal place they can smoke is the street. And it treats vaping like smoking, which is totally outrageous and unjustified in our opinion.
"These are all major disappointments," he said. "This was an opportunity for California to move ahead of the rest of the country, but instead they blew it with excessive language. This is 60 pages of text. We'll be looking at years and years of litigation."
That doesn't necessarily mean Cal NORML will oppose it, Gieringer said.
"If it ends up being the only thing on the ballot in November, I suspect we would support it," he conceded.
At this point, that looks likely to be the case. None of the other initiatives are showing any signs that they have the organization or the funding to go out and get the 365,000 valid voter signatures needed to make the ballot.
Gieringer also conceded that passage of AUMA would be progress.
"If it passes, it will do three valuable things," he said. "Adults can grow six plants and possess an ounce. Just allowing for personal use is extremely important. The AUMA decreases mandatory felony penalties for cultivation or possession with intent to sell down to misdemeanors in most cases, and that's important. And it establishes a legal marketplace for adult use."
AUMA may not be perfect, but unless Californians are willing to go another election cycle or wait for the legislature to legalize it, this is most likely what they'll have a chance to vote for.