Round 2 in medical marijuana fight

Backers of an initiative to legalize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries – and even head off a federal crackdown – are putting together an initiative targeting the November ballot, the second time in as many years that cannabis advocates have asked the electorate to decide weed-linked issues.

“There isn’t a uniform regulation or structure or rule, so the question is, ‘How do we do this in a way that tightens regulations over medical marijuana?’” said Roger Salazar, a political strategist for the campaign, called Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana.

“For a long time, the federal government was taking a hands-off approach to medical marijuana. If they see that California is tightening up its controls and regulations, they may see that California has figured out a way to regulate it.”

The campaign committee was formed last week and proponents have filed the measure’s language with the state attorney general’s office. Backers include the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which hopes to organize dispensary workers, and the California Cannabis Association, which represents dispensary operators, patient-growers, advocates and others within the industry.

The proposed initiative comes amid a federal crackdown on major marijuana growers and dispensaries, in which federal prosecutors across California are forcing shutdowns of the operations. The prosecutors say California’s medical marijuana industry violates federal law as well as state law, which bars for-profit sales.

The state law stems from Proposition 15, which voters approved in 1996, which allows personal marijuana use with a doctor’s prescription.

The latest proposal would create a state office called the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement as part of the state Consumer Affairs Department. The bureau’s functions would include targeting the use of fraudulent marijuana prescriptions from doctors.

The plan includes a 2.5 percent statewide marijuana sales tax, and a provision allowing local governments to impose additional taxes on their own. Just how much money that would be raised is uncertain. A fiscal analysis of the Proposition 19, the marijuana-legalization initiative that voters rejected two years ago, estimated that a 10 percent statewide tax on marijuana would raise about $1.4 billion annually.

The medical marijuana proposal isn’t the only marijuana-related measure aimed at the ballot.

Already cleared for circulation is a far broader proposal to decriminalize marijuana use, cultivation and distribution. The measure, which includes support from Proposition 19’s backers, calls for the immediate release of state or local prisoners serving time for nonviolent marijuana offenses, requires their criminal records relating to the offenses be expunged and authorizes the Legislature to approve laws to license, tax and regulate marijuana operations. It also bars California from enforcing federal marijuana laws.

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