Newsom’s Commission Drafts Road Map for Regulating Recreational Pot

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By Alex Emslie
KQED

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and his Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy released a report today with dozens of policy recommendations in the event that voters legalize recreation marijuana use in 2016.

Just don’t call it advocacy.

“Neither the Commission nor this report is intended to make the case for or against legalization,” the report’s executive summary says. “Rather, this report serves as a resource to help the public and policymakers understand the range of policy issues and options to consider in advance of such a decision.”

The document (read below) contains 58 recommendations, ranging from the broad — “Focus on the public interest” — to focused analysis of tax policies, environmental impact, public safety and how the state would navigate legalization of a controlled substance illegal under federal law.

“This report offers not only a pathway to carefully crafting a thoughtful initiative but it also gives government the tools to follow up with implementation, if voters decide to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for adult use,” Newsom said in a written statement. “If this is done right, we have an opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access, while limiting the unintended consequences that have characterized past ballot initiatives.”

The report points out problems with California’s current relationship with pot under “a quasi-legal medical cannabis system that is largely unregulated, untaxed and untenable.”

“Our loose regulations regarding medical cannabis serve as an invitation to recreational users to use the medical marijuana system,” it says, “but they are also an invitation for federal intervention because these regulations do not establish clearly what is and is not legal and do not adhere to enforcement guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Federal law is one aspect of recreational marijuana legalization the Blue Ribbon Commission report attempts to navigate. "The clear message from the current administration is that states will not be sanctioned for legalizing recreational or medical cannabis use if they work within these guidelines," the report says. (From Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California)

Federal law is one aspect of recreational marijuana legalization the Blue Ribbon Commission report attempts to navigate. ‘The clear message from the current administration is that states will not be sanctioned for legalizing recreational or medical cannabis use if they work within these guidelines,’ the report says. (From Pathways Report: Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California)

The report cites a May poll by the Public Policy Institute of California that found 56 percent of likely voters said that marijuana should be legal. There are at least five separate ballot initiatives seeking to legalize recreational marijuana use at various stages in the process of getting on the November 2016 ballot.

ReformCA, one of the organizations pursuing a 2016 ballot initiative, commended the Blue Ribbon Commission report Wednesday.

“Our initiative addresses control and regulation, public health concerns, packaging, retail sales and cultivation with reasonable flexibility,” Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, ReformCA’s parent organization, said in a written statement. “We seek to create funding mechanisms to support the regulatory and enforcement scheme, along with increased education and environmental protection. However, we do not create a tax regime with the expectation that cannabis tax revenues will be a cash cow for general government operations, nor entice the black market.”

The report cautions that California should not see potential tax revenue that legalization could generate as a windfall for the state.

“Revenue raised from marijuana taxes should be used to help further the public interest in achieving the policy goals directly associated with legalization,” it says, encouraging policymakers to “develop a highly regulated market with enforcement and oversight capacity from the beginning, not an unregulated free market; this industry should not be California’s next Gold Rush.”

While the PPIC poll notes a steady increase in support for legalization since 2012, the poll still shows only a narrow margin of support among likely voters. And there are many opponents.

Scott Chipman is the Southern California chair of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana. He said the report is “deceptive.”

“Gavin Newsom has been a supporter of legalization in the past,” Chipman said. “He wants to say this is just to try to protect us?”

Opponents and supporters of recreational marijuana legalization — and the Blue Ribbon Commission report — point to the same source for their arguments and analysis — other states that have paved the way.

“Marijuana should not be legalized, and the best argument against legalization is what’s happening in Colorado,” Chipman said. “The black market in Colorado has not been reduced one iota.”

Jones rejected the statement.

“Let’s tiptoe back into reality real quick,” she said. “I think that there’s every indication actually that the black market goes away.”

She said Colorado’s legalization has improved public safety and public health by generating money for enforcement and allowing closet smokers to report health concerns to doctors without fear of arrest.

The Denver Post has reported extensively on Colorado’s legalization. Read stories from the one-year anniversary here, and all the newspaper’s marijuana coverage here.

Chipman said use among teens and adults is increasing in states that have legalized recreational use, and the substance causes “depression, psychosis and paranoia.”

He doesn’t think California will go the way of the rest of the West Coast and opt for legalization.

“We don’t think it’s inevitable,” he said. “Actually, we think the trend is against legalization.”

He said CALM is crafting its own ballot initiative, tentatively titled “The California Safe and Drug Free Communities Act,” which would not only reject legalized recreational pot but also seek to strengthen regulation of medical marijuana.

ReformCA’s measure will likely come out around the same time – mid-August, according to Jones. She said a lot has changed since 2010, when Proposition 19 was defeated with 53.5 percent of voters against legalizing recreational marijuana.

 “Since that time, we have seen the intended and unintended consequences in these other states that have legalized,” she said. “Having this evidence of what happens when you legalize, I think that clenches it.”

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