Cannabis confusion

Sorting out the multiple efforts to legalize marijuana

Signature gatherer Mark Anthony Johnson collects voter signatures for a number of initiatives, including one that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Signature gatherer Mark Anthony Johnson collects voter signatures for a number of initiatives, including one that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

photo by Tom gascoyne

According to the California Secretary of State’s Office, six initiatives to legalize marijuana are currently being circulated for signature gathering. In reality, there are only four, as two were early iterations of what’s essentially the same petition created by the same supporters.

That’s just one of the reasons this year’s legalization efforts are confusing. Then, there is some talk that those pushing the initiatives may back off this election year, join forces and aim for 2016, a presidential election year when greater numbers of younger and liberal voters will most likely go to the polls.

There’s a common theme through all of the initiatives. Each basically calls for the legalization of recreational pot, similar to what was approved in Colorado and Washington during the presidential election two years ago.

One of them, the Cannabis Policy Reform Act of 2014, qualified on March 13 and petitioners have until Aug. 11 to collect 504,760 valid voter signatures. It was written by Ed Rosenthal, a former columnist for High Times magazine and proponent of Proposition 215, which legalized the use of medical marijuana in California when it passed 18 years ago.

Rosenthal’s proposal says that existing pot laws have created “a violent, criminal drug market” in which millions of dollars are spent each year enforcing marijuana laws rather than preventing violent crime. It suggests that existing pot laws “have a disproportionate impact on African-American and Latino communities.”

Rosenthal was out of the country and could not be reached for comment, but Beth Fitzer, the woman who answered the number listed on the petition, said Rosenthal was dropping the signature-gathering effort to join with a group called the Drug Policy Alliance and will try again in 2016. According to its website, the DPA “is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms.”

The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act got the go-ahead from the secretary of state on Feb. 6, allowing supporters until July 7 to collect signatures. The proponent for this measure is listed as Sara Behmerwohld, who is connected to the Sutton Law Firm in San Francisco.

The petition says that current state laws “have failed to prevent minors from accessing marijuana” and, like Rosenthal’s, notes that millions are spent each year “enforcing marijuana laws that could otherwise be spent preventing and solving violent crimes and property-related crimes.”

Existing laws also have allowed the creation of drug cartels and “contributed to environmental degradation,” the measure says. If passed into law, it would deny access to pot to those under the age of 21, prohibit marijuana advertising aimed at the same age group, and tax the sale of marijuana “in order to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue annually for K-12 after-school programs, drug and alcohol prevention and treatment programs, local governments, and environmental restoration.”

It would also keep intact current laws pertaining to driving under the influence of marijuana, maintain the right of employers to enforce workplace policies on marijuana, and prevent the “illegal diversion of marijuana from California to other states or to the illegal market.”

Proponents of the initiative could not be reached for comment.

The latest version of The Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014 was recognized by the state on Jan. 31, allowing supporters until June 30 to gather signatures. Those supporters are listed as John Lee, Bob Bowerman, Dege Coutee and Dave Hodges.

If passed, the measure “grants to Californians the freedom to use, grow, transport and sell cannabis subject to reasonable regulation and taxation in a manner similar to alcohol.” It argues that the social benefits of pot prohibition “are vastly outweighed by the costs of investigating, arresting, prosecuting and incarcerating otherwise law-abiding citizens.”

The California Cannabis Hemp Initiative of 2014 is promoted by a Simi Valley man named Berton Duzy and received state approval March 21, giving circulators until Aug. 18 to gather signatures. The wording says, “No person, business, or corporate entity shall be arrested or prosecuted, be denied any right or privilege, nor be subject to any criminal or civil penalties for the possession, cultivation, transportation, distribution, use, or consumption of cannabis hemp marijuana.”

Efforts to qualify the initiative failed when fewer than 500,000 signatures were gathered by the initial February deadline, so proponent Duzy resubmitted.

In a story published last month in the Sacramento News & Review, Duzy said he had not yet abandoned his efforts this year. However, he also said, “We’ll go up against DPA and NORML in 2016, and try to get ours to qualify.”