Signature gathering begins for recreational pot initiative
An effort to legalize marijuana use in California beyond the medicinal applications allowed by Proposition 215 has been launched for the third time in the past four years.
On Sept. 26, California Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced those behind this latest try may begin collecting the 504,760 signatures of registered voters needed to qualify the initiative for the ballot. The signatures must be collected by Feb. 24 of next year.
The initiative, which is being pushed by Los Angeles-area marijuana activists Berton “Buddy” Duzy and Michael Jolson, “[D]ecriminalizes marijuana and hemp use, possession, cultivation, transportation, or distribution,” according to the state attorney general’s official summary. It would also require a case-by-case review of those “currently charged with or convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses, for possible sentence modification, amnesty, or immediate release from prison, jail, parole, or probation.”
The state Legislature would be asked to create laws to license and tax commercial marijuana sales, allow doctors to recommend pot use for patients regardless of age, limit an employer’s right to test employees for marijuana, and bar state or local police from aiding the enforcement of federal marijuana laws.
Last year, legalized marijuana use was approved in Colorado and Washington. In August, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the governors of those states that the Department of Justice would allow them to regulate the legalized use of marijuana for adults.
A similar California ballot measure failed in 2010, but did garner 46 percent of the vote. In 2012, Duzy and Jolson failed to gather enough signatures to place it on the ballot. Duzy said he’s been involved in trying to legalize marijuana for most of his adult life. He runs a group called the Reefer Raiders, who are friends and supporters of the late pot crusader and author Jack Herer. The Raiders have been filing marijuana initiatives since 1980.
“I am motivated by the simple fact that the cannabis hemp plant is by far the most versatile and useful plant on the planet and that it has been actively suppressed by the many special-interest industries that feel threatened by the plant,” Duzy said in an emailed message. “Stories abound about people who have been able to abandon many of their prescription medications by substituting cannabis use. The pharmaceutical industry is very aware of this and lobbies heavily to keep it illegal.”
Other industries, Duzy argues, including those that manufacture paper, fiberboard, building materials as well as those who extract fossil-fuel, are also against legalization of the plant.
“Hemp can replace trees for paper, fiberboard, and other building materials,” he said. “Hemp, when grown for biomass, can yield up to 10 dry tons per acre, making it the best candidate for biomass ethanol fuel.”
Duzy said the same industries helped criminalize marijuana in the early 20th century and are now working to keep it illegal.
“Beyond hemp, I feel that adults should be able to use pot recreationally as a safe substitute for alcohol, and that locking people up for [using] what is basically a safe herbal substance is a social travesty and a waste of taxpayer money and jail space,” he said.
The financial impact if the measure passes, according the secretary of state’s summary, will mean “reduced costs in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders.”
There is also a potential increase in annual tax revenues “in the low hundreds of millions of dollars” connected to the sale of marijuana and industrial hemp, the report concludes.
Duzy said there are more than 500 volunteers across the state ready to hit the streets to collect signatures.
“We are adding dozens more [volunteers] every day and so I am confident that our grassroots effort has a good chance for success,” he said.