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Marijuana: California advocates consider best ways to follow Colorado's legalization lead

In 2010, California was the U.S. leader when it came to medical marijuana reform -- and with that year's Proposition 19, the state was poised to take the first steps toward broader legalization. But support for the measure faded as election day neared, and after it was voted down, Mason Tvert told us its failure gave Colorado the chance to be the first state to legalize recreational pot. Three years later, advocates in Cali are ready to try again -- and they're hoping lessons learned here will help them succeed this time.

Last week, a team hired by the late Peter Lewis formally filed an initiative known as "The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act." But this doesn't necessarily mean the group will push to place the measure on the 2014 ballot. According to Tom Angell, chairman of a national organization called the Marijuana Majority, and a close follower of national cannabis politics, organizers are weighing their options.

"Some people say, 'We should put this before voters right now, because we clearly have majority support right now,'" Angell notes. "But on the other hand, some folks are saying turnout and demographics in past elections are generally much more favorable to legalization in a general election presidential year, because more youth vote in those years."

Indeed, this last factor was among those cited in the failure of Proposition 19, which was offered during a non-presidential election year, and the success of Colorado's Amendment 64, passed in the same year (2012) that also saw President Barack Obama's reelection. But other things have changed since then. After Colorado and Washington state approved measures allowing adults 21 and over to use and possess small amounts of marijuana, opinion polls shifted dramatically in favor of reform. This momentum could make waiting another two years less necessary.

In the meantime, the new marijuana act features a couple of sections that reflect the experience in Colorado.

For instance, Proposition 19 (the complete text is also shared below) included language stating that "this act is intended to limit the application and enforcement of state and local laws relating to possession, transportation, cultivation, consumption, and sale of cannabis." In contrast, Amendment 64 allowed local jurisdictions to decide if they wanted to allow retail sales or not -- and this flexibility dulled the opposition to some degree.

Tom Angell in a photo from last year.
Tom Angell in a photo from last year.

With that in mind, the "Intents and Purposes" section of the new act explicitly states that the initiative will "permit local governments to ban or limit the number of marijuana-related businesses in their own jurisdictions."

Another sticking point for some California voters when it came to Prop. 19 was strict protections for employees. One section of the document reads, "No person shall be punished, fined, discriminated against, or be denied any right or privilege for lawfully engaging in any conduct permitted by this act or authorized pursuant to Section 11301. Provided, however, that the existing right of an employer to address consumption that actually impairs job performance by an employee shall not be affected."

No such edict appears in Amendment 64 -- and the new act maintains "the ability of public and private employers to enact and enforce workplace policies pertaining to marijuana."

Will tweaks like these spell the difference between victory and defeat? Angell doesn't know for sure, but he feels public opinion is moving in the right direction.

"Where is the tipping point?" he asks. "That's always the question. And if we haven't already passed it, when Colorado and Washington took their historic steps, we're certainly approaching it.

"That said, California is an immensely influential state. It's one of the largest economies in the world and very influential on the global stage. So California legalizing marijuana would definitely be an indicator that the tipping point has been reached."

If the act's backers decide to aim for 2014, their time table is short. As noted by the Drug War Chronicle, the deadline for collecting the more than 500,000 signatures required for the measure to make the ballot is April -- and the site points out that "state officials have up to sixty days to return a ballot summary and let signature-gathering commence," making a potential 2014 schedule that much tighter.

Still, Angell sees this chore as doable if resources are plentiful enough. "The real question is, how much money will be behind the paid signature effort," he says. "If the money is there, time might not be a major factor."

Particularly given the latest opinion polls about marijuana legalization.

Continue to see "The Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act" and its predecessor 2010's Proposition 19.

California Control Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act

California Proposition 19, 2010

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa November 2010: "Proposition 19 loss gives CO chance to be first state to legalize marijuana, says Mason Tvert."