Thursday, October 17, 2013
Marijuana advocates took a step toward making California the third state to legalize the drug for adult recreational use Thursday when Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the American Civil Liberties Union launched an 18-month campaign aimed at putting a ballot measure before voters in 2016.
Newsom, who came out in favor of legalization last year, will lead a panel of academics, drug policy experts, law enforcement authorities and officials from Colorado and Washington - the two states whose voters legalized recreational use last year.
The panel's goal: To answer legal and practical questions about the state-endorsed sale of marijuana before advocates move forward with a measure to tax and regulate the estimated $1.5 billion cannabis industry in California.
Backers intend to go to the voters in November 2016 - coinciding with the presidential election, when the electorate is likely to skew younger than average and thus more marijuana-friendly. Even older voters, however, are becoming more open to marijuana legalization,according to a pair of recent polls.
One, which the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California released last month, found that 60 percent of likely voters overall backed legalization. A survey by San Francisco pollster Ben Tulchin, commissioned by the ACLU and released Thursday, found that 65 percent of 1,200 respondents considered likely to vote in 2016 would support a measure to tax and regulate marijuana. The state's voters rejected a legalization measure in 2010 by 53 to 47 percent.
"The fact is that the public's support for marijuana is increasing," Tulchin said. "The key, though, is that they want regulations and limits on this. And they want the revenue (from taxation) to fund essential services. They don't want to be able to go to Costco and buy it in bulk," Tulchin said.
At a San Francisco press conference Thursday, members of the ACLU-led panel acknowledged that voters will have many questions about what legalization would entail. Over the next year and a half, the group will travel around the state, holding town hall meetings and periodically issuing recommendations."People want to know what a DUI would be. Employers want to know what happens if their employee shows up stoned at work," said Craig Reinarman, a panel member and professor of sociology and legal studies at UC Santa Cruz who has written about drug policy for 30 years.
For answers, advocates will turn to officials and activists from Colorado and Washington, who have been wrestling with such issues since legalization measures passed in their states last fall. It wasn't until this week that Washington's Liquor Control Board adopted rules that will permit 334 retail marijuana stores to open statewide next year....
Other legalization groups are talking about going to the ballot in 2014. Hopper said the ACLU is not going to run any ballot measures or decide who should. "We want to make sure that whatever coalition ends up doing this has the data and the facts and the research to do it right," Hopper said.