Regulate cannabis like wine?

A look at one potential 2012 legalization effort

The first marijuana legalization effort of California’s 2012 election cycle isn’t off to a great start. Despite token mainstream press from the likes of The Washington Post, the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012 has little to show for itself, and almost no funds.

The hype so far, in fact, is a teachable moment: 1. Almost anyone can file an initiative in California, but few go anywhere. 2. Those serious about legalization should be looking at the fundamentals.

For starters, the text of the initiative keeps changing. And even the title has evolved since the California Secretary of State, on July 22, labeled the initiative “Marijuana Legalization.”

“We weren’t regulating it to their satisfaction,” explained Steve Kubby, a Lake Tahoe libertarian activist who co-founded the group Tax Marijuana 2012 with retired Orange County judge Jim Gray. As a result, Kubby said they’re starting over and “putting in more carefully drafted language” into the measure.

Once they finalize, resubmit and get a new title and summary, the group will need an estimated $1.4 million to pay signature-gatherers to obtain roughly 800,000 signatures in 150 days—and that’s just to get the initiative qualified for the November 2012 election. It could take $5 million to $10 million to win.

According to Kubby, the group has about $10,000 in its campaign coffers. The big funders associated with Proposition 215 in 1996 and last year’s failed Proposition 19 aren’t donating just yet, Kubby said. About 46 percent of California voters in 2010 approved of the tax-and-regulate pot initiative, which failed by about 689,000 votes.

So Tax Marijuana 2012 is taking a different tack in fundraising. The group plans to hold its first fundraiser on September 1 in Newport Beach with the goal of tapping funds in conservative Orange County. “There’s a lot of high-net-worth people that we’re going to be talking to,” Kubby said.

However, just what these high-rollers will be donating to remains an open question. Tax Marijuana 2012 attorneys are currently redrafting language to better specify the new pot-regulating powers of the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The latest draft is available online and, while the spirit of the act is clear, the details remain vague. It calls for pot industry fees and regulations “using the grape and wine industry as an example”—wording that Kubby acknowledges is not very explicit.

As it reads now, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine also would decriminalize pot from seed to sale and subject it to sales tax. Small, non-commercial grows of up to 25 indoor plants and 12 outdoor plants would be exempt from commercial regulations, just as home brewers are exempt from state alcohol regulations. There are also no weight limits, and it bars police from enforcing federal law.

The true make-or-break moment for Tax Marijuana 2012, Kubby said, will perhaps come by the end of this year. “If we don’t have six figures in the bank December 1, you’re not going to take us very seriously,” he said.