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Marijuana Legalizers Coalesce Behind Sean Parker 

Wednesday, Dec 9 2015
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Most of California's 3 million or so cannabis consumers don't care how the state's biggest cash crop and America's favorite illegal substance becomes legal — just when.

November 2016 is looking more and more likely, with the disappearance this week of one major roadblock to the legalization movement in California: the movement itself.

For most of the second half of 2015, several competing legalization measures have presented themselves as contenders for next year's ballot — and not in a friendly way. Specifically, some organizers who worked on 2010's Proposition 19 — which bootstrapped its way to a losing effort in California but paved the way for Colorado and Washington to go legal in 2012 — took issue with the latecomer but current frontrunner campaign that is supposedly guaranteed funding from tech billionaire Sean Parker (himself a Prop. 19 donor).

While it would take more than "stoners against legalization" to derail the train, dissension within the movement was still a bad look. At least for now, it appears to have been fixed.

In the days before Thanksgiving, Richard Lee, the Oaksterdam University founder who bankrolled Prop. 19, endorsed the "Adult Use of Marijuana Act" (also known as the "Parker initiative," although Parker has yet to write a check). This was significant, given that Lee's former colleagues from the Prop. 19 push have been flogging their own legalization measure, Reform California, and threatening to oppose Parker's.

And on Monday, after the AUMA's backers changed their proposal to make it tougher for Big Weed to enter the state, other influential but heretofore leery industry players appear to have jumped on board — including other board members of Reform California.

"I've gone from feeling like I wouldn't be able to support the Parker initiative to the point of being excited to be a part of the team," said Tim Blake, the founder and producer of The Emerald Cup, the Northern California cannabis industry's most legendary happening (which happens to be this weekend).

What's changed?

The AUMA would still allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana (or eight grams of hash, shatter, or other cannabis concentrates) and grow up to six plants. There are prohibitions on furnishing cannabis to minors, selling it without a permit, and smoking too close to schools. Penalties for violating these rules carry a maximum $500 fine or six months in county jail.

Commercial cannabis activity would still be allowed with a license, and the state's medical marijuana industry, regulated by the state for the first time this year, would still be expressly protected (meaning, if you are 18 and like to carry around up to eight ounces, as you can today, you will still enjoy that privilege).

Here are some highlights of what's new:

No licenses for Big Weed, for at least five years. The edited AUMA would put a five-year moratorium on large-scale cultivation operations (bigger than an acre for outdoor; 22,000 square feet or more for indoor).

Protections for parents. Medical marijuana use is expressly NOT grounds to lose children in custody battles or in fights with Child Protective Services, a first.

Cities and counties can ban recreational dispensaries and recreational activity without a public vote. This also slows down the industry and will upset purists, but it likely flipped the League of California Cities, a statewide political player, from opposing to neutral, sources say.

Labor peace. Organized labor, a partner in the regulation of medical marijuana, appeared to be a likely foil after initial drafts of the AUMA failed to include labor-friendly provisions written in the medical bills. This may not thrill the Teamsters or the United Food and Commercial Workers, which declined to comment, but it's closer to the mark.

Other anti-drug statutes, like the one allowing concentrate manufacturing to be punished like methamphetamine production, are still on the books. This will anger purists but won't faze pragmatists who realize that weedheads are still a minority.

So, what's left to question? A few things.


One of the biggest risks to legalization is an organized opposition movement with a recognizable and respected figurehead. In 2010, when Prop. 19 was defeated, that was U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

But now, even political maneuvering on entirely unrelated topics appears to be working in legal weed's favor.

There was talk that former San Francisco mayor Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom would lead the legalization push, but instead he's backing a ballot initiative to tighten California gun control — which just happens to be one of the pet issues for Feinstein, the author of the now-expired federal assault weapons ban. Nobody doubts that Feinstein is still ideologically opposed to drug legalization, but there's a good chance that this move by Newsom, her fellow mainstream Democrat, could at least neutralize her on the issue.

As for opposition from inside the movement: The only activist holdout has been the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (which, as Keith Stroup, the national organization's legal counsel, reminded us in a recent blog post, "remains a consumer lobby"). As of Monday, CA NORML had not yet signed on with the Parker initiative. Dale Gieringer, California NORML's current executive director, did not respond to recent emails seeking comment but as recently as a few weeks ago was talking about a "compromise" initiative.

Who does that leave to stand in legalization's way? "Narcs," one high-level industry lobbyist said.


About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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