By Chris Roberts Fri., Mar. 9 2012 at 5:00 AM
Union Pulls Plug on Medical Reform, Other Ballot Measures Starved For Cash; Legislature, Ammiano Last Hope for Reform Now
Nobody likes to celebrate with a loss, but for the medical marijuana movement, 2010 and the historic defeat of semi-legalization measure Proposition 19 already look like the good old days.
Feast turned to famine quickly: Multiple marijuana legalization and medical marijuana reform ballot initiatives vied this year and last for a spot on voters’ ballots in November. But United Food and Commercial Workers and Americans for Safe Access withdrew on Thursday their Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act, and leading proponents of legalization initiative Regulate Marijuana Like Wine are already looking ahead to 2014.
But with the federal Justice Department’s crackdown on California cannabis in full swing, that may be too long to wait, leaving all eyes now on an outspoken lawmaker from San Francisco to save cannabis in California.
Tom Ammiano, you’re their only hope.
Oakland union organizer Dan Rush, chief of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp division of UFCW’s national chapter, told the Sacramento Bee on Thursday afternoon that the union was "pulling the plug" on the MMCRT, which would have created a state-level bureaucracy to oversee and regulate the state’s medical marijuana industry not unlike what Alcoholic Beverage Control does for liquor.
Cash was the main reason, ASA executive director Stephanie Sherer told SF Weekly on Thursday evening: with about six weeks left before signatures were due in Sacramento — initiatives need over 500,000 valid signatures to qualify; campaigns usually submit 750,000 or more by the April 20 deadline — the campaign had $1.25 million of the $2 million needed just to pay signature-gathering companies to qualify.
More cash would be needed to run a campaign, so the call was made to focus on Sacramento, said Sherer, who added that the campaign started late and nonetheless "achieved [its] dream: to get something in the Legislature."
"We’re not dropping anything," said Sherer, who said the money will be spent on a "public awareness campaign" to sway lawmakers’ minds. This may work now when it did not before: leery lawmakers in Sacramento wanted proof that the often divisive and divided medical marijuana movement was not "a mile wide and an inch deep," she said. "Well, we’re not."
ASA and UFCW raised the cash in increments of $500 to $10,000 from medical marijuana dispensaries, dispensary organization, patients, advocates, and pot growers big and small, she told SF Weekly (financial disclosure forms have yet to be filed with the Secretary of State).
It’s now up to the Legislature and Ammiano, who introduced a bill very similar in language to the UFCW-ASA effort. It has yet to be called for a hearing in committee. A spokesman for Ammiano was not immediately available for comment late Thursday.
Ammiano will need Republican cosponsors as well as support from his Democratic colleagues in order to make any headway.
Meanwhile, the three legalization measures are still starving for billionaires. A few weeks ago in LA, proponents for Repeal Cannabis Prohibition, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, and the California Cannabis and Hemp Health Initiative issued a "statement of unity" that included a clarion call to rich people. All ballot initiatives were in desperate need of cash; they remain so today.
In 2010, recall, Richard Lee of Oaksterdam University spent millions of his own money to put Proposition 19 on the ballot. The initiative won more votes than Meg Whitman, but was still defeated on the ballot, 46.2 percent for to 53.8 percent opposed.
Once on the ballot, he received big money contributions from George Soros, Peter Thiel, and other progressive-minded angel investors; those rich pot-loving folk have yet to pony up this year, and it now appears they won’t.
Though "anything can still happen," said Steve Kubby, one of the proponents for Regulate Marijuana Like Wine. "I’m all about miracles."
And he might need one. RMLW has $54,000 in the bank and about 200,000 signatures, said Kubby, an "eyeball estimate, mind you" he gave via telephone after looking at a stack of papers in his South Lake Tahoe home. "We have to do an audit, but I can tell you we have a pile."
The challenge now is to figure out how to get a voter initiative on the ballot and how to win a campaign without a billionaires’ largess. That has not been done: it was Soros who bankrolled Proposition 215 in 1996.
"I do not understand how a person with billions who enjoys cannabis even on occasion, and who sympathizes with the damages of cannabis prohibition on our society, would not take a shot at real reform for 2012 in the nation’s most populous state," said East Bay-based organizer and activist Mickey Martin, who used to head up edibles collective Tainted, Inc. before a federal bust. "For a few million bucks we could have cannabis freedom for 12% of America in one effort. Someone needs to write that check."
Martin pointed to 2016, a presidential cycle, as the more likely "next time around" for cannabis legalization or reform. Kubby pointed forward to 2014, when fundraising and signature-gathering can be done in the cheaper offseason.
"We’ll raise the money ourselves, between now and 2014," he said. "I can tell you with certainty, if we don’t get onto the 2012 ballot, this will definitely be on the 2014 ballot."
So keep the faith, marijuana users. And try to befriend some billionaires while you’re at it.
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