This November, four out of the five of the initiatives on the ballot to legalize marijuana are sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). In those states, too, there has been a significant base of opposition to the measures from different groups of Stoners Against Legalization.
Sometimes that opposition forms out of the groups that attempted to put their version of legalization on the ballot but failed. It’s a corollary of the “It’s Not True Legalization™” phenomenon that sports fans know well as “Wait Til Next Year!” These well-meaning supporters often have decent legalization language to offer but no political capital or fundraising ability to do anything about it.
Somehow these True Legalizers™ will tell you that passage of the initiative on the ballot now is going to lock in those stifling regulations for eternity. Then, without flinching, they will tell you that you need to vote against that initiative because in two years, their superior True Legalization™ will make the ballot and pass.
That’s right – if legalization passes, these activists are too politically impotent to help shape regulations and expand legalization in the future, but if legalization fails, these activists will be more politically powerful than they were this time around (in a presidential election with the best turnout for legalization) and they’ll easily get their legalization on the ballot and pass it (in an off-year midterm election with lower turnout) after a more conservative legalization had just been defeated at the polls two years prior.
Arizona Medical Marijuana vs. Legalization
The most extreme Stoners Against Legalization tale this election season comes from Arizona. It has been a nasty battle to get legalization on the ballot in the state where Sheriff Joe Arpaio is still somewhat popular and the Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery is publicly calling a veteran medical marijuana patient an “enemy”.
MPP began its push for legalization in 2015 facing off not against Stoners Against Legalization, but against the existing medical marijuana dispensaries and their “I Gots Mine” attitude. Initially, MPP was proposing a legalization measure that set up a recreational system separate from the medical marijuana system. But the dispensary owners didn’t like the idea of being stuck with just 10 percent of the marijuana market, so they pushed back against MPP’s measure by presenting a measure of their own.
The dispensary owners complained that MPP’s measure was never going to pass in conservative Arizona because it allowed for too many pot shops and for personal home growing. Arizona dispensaries have had a nice corner on the marijuana market, since the 2010 medical marijuana measure passed in Arizona by MPP established what’s called a “25-mile halo” around medical marijuana dispensaries – if you live within 25 miles of one, you cannot home grow cannabis.
MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia and leader of the dispensary onwers, Dr. Gina Berman, fought over their competing initiatives, culminating in an email from Kampia to Berman that threatened MPP’s spending of $10,000 to “to pay people for 1,000 hours of time to distribute literature outside of your front door, and the literature will not portray you in a kind way.”
Eventually the two sides worked out their differences when MPP refiled its language to benefit the medical marijuana dispensaries. The home grow provisions would remain, eliminating the “25-mile halo”, but the existing medical marijuana dispensaries would have the first shot at the retail adult marijuana licenses.
Arizonans for Marijuana Rejection
In the meantime, another group had formed, called Arizonans for Mindful Regulation. They represented the hopeful entrepreneurs who felt written out by the compromise between MPP and medical marijuana operators, as well as those who felt MPP’s language was too restrictive. Led by Jason Medar, this group campaigned for its marijuana initiative, but lacked the signatures and funding to make it to the ballot.
So Medar’s group has now transformed into the redundantly named Marijuana Consumers Against Fake Marijuana Legalization. They claim that passing what is now Proposition 205 in Arizona will “do more harm than good” because it doesn’t protect marijuana consumers.
Medar’s group does admit that Prop 205 makes it “legal for adults to grow six cannabis plants“. But if someone was caught growing seven plants, they would receive a felony charge. They’ll admit that Prop 205 “allows adults to legally possess five grams of marijuana concentrates”. But if someone was caught with six grams of concentrates, they would receive a felony charge.
Unlike today in Arizona, where if you’re caught growing one cannabis plant or in possession of any concentrates, it’s a felony. I know, you’re shaking your head. Somehow these people think it is worse for cannabis consumers to have some legal amount of cannabis, because they’d be busted if they had over that amount.
In a similar bout of illogic, Medar’s group complains that the MPP legalization initiative “fails to adequately address firearms protections, DUI protections, parental protections, raid and search protections, loss of rights protections, post-conviction relief” and still allows your employer to discriminate against your marijuana use… just like now, except you’ll be able to legally possess marijuana and buy it from pot shops.
Another concern they have is that cities and counties would be able to ban nuisance marijuana grows. But this is a place where the medical marijuana 25-mile halo already prevents medical home grows in over 97 percent of the state and prohibition prevents recreational grows in 100 percent of the state. Even in Medar’s worst-case scenario of “virtually every single City and County in Arizona” will ban home grows, how does that make the situation worse than it is right now?
The remainder of Medar’s group’s concerns deal with the dreaded oligopolies. Medical marijuana dispensaries would get the recreational licenses, so hopeful pot shop owners are cut out. Arizona will form a new marijuana licensing commission that may regulate paraphernalia at smoke shops. But how are those problems for the marijuana consumer?
Nevada Alcohol vs. Legalization
In neighboring Nevada there is a lack of an organized Stoners Against Legalization group, but that doesn’t mean that legalization there had a smooth path to the ballot.
Medical marijuana has been around in Nevada since 2000, but it has only got around to forming a dispensary system in 2013 and just made its first marijuana sale in 2015. Nevada only has a few thousand medical marijuana patients, but their law now includes a reciprocity provision for out-of-state medical marijuana patients.
This has resulted in a flood of cardholders from neighboring California and other states who can now go to Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe for their vacations and be able to access medical cannabis. In essence, Nevada for the past year has already undergone a dry run of marijuana legalization, thanks to the ease with which Californians can get a medical marijuana recommendation.
Thus with an established industry to worry about, MPP once again set limits on recreational licenses and allowed only the current medical marijuana operators to apply for them in the first 18 months. MPP created a home grow right but then established another 25-mile halo, this time around any recreational pot shop, where home growing is banned.
However, Nevada also provided MPP with another entrenched group to buy off to avoid funded opposition – the liquor industry. Liquor has a lot of power in a state full of casinos and laws that allow open containers on the streets. So in Nevada’s initiative, unlike any other state legalization, the existing liquor distributors will get first crack at the distribution licenses for cannabis. And, in a nod to the tourism officials who don’t want streets full of drunk gamblers sullied by presence of marijuana smokers, Nevada will have the greatest public toking penalty, a misdemeanor with a fine of $600.
Massachusetts’ Bay State Revolt
In Massachusetts, MPP also had to deal with a medical marijuana program and an activist group called Bay State Repeal that was working on a more liberal initiative. MPP once again set up a limited number of licenses and guaranteed them to the existing medical marijuana operators until October of 2018.
Bay State Repeal was unable to raise the signatures and funds to get their measure on the ballot, but most of its supporters have come around to supporting MPP’s initiative, now known as Question 4. In December, the leader of the group, Steve Epstein, told the Boston Globe that he would “use every skill in my power” to oppose Question 4 because it reeks of “crony capitalism”.
However, Epstein has been recently posting on the Bay State Repeal Facebook page with news and polling about Question 4. He doesn’t seem to be actively campaigning against it.
In comparison to the MPP-backed initiatives in the Southwest, Massachusetts looks like it’s getting a pretty good deal. There will be no remaining possession felonies following passage of Question 4. You can possess ten ounces at home and the results of your home grow harvest of up to 12 plants per household. There can be marijuana lounges and there will no longer be implied consent for DUID blood or urine samples. There can be no fewer than one pot shop for every five liquor licenses in a locality unless a locality puts it to a public vote. Best of all, the pot taxes in Massachusetts will be set a national-low 3.75 percent.
Maine’s True Legalizer™ Wins Against MPP
Finally, the state of Maine provides the example that the Stoners Against Legalization everywhere should pay heed to, as it is the only state so far where grassroots activists have gone against MPP with a more liberal marijuana legalization and won.
Paul McCarrier is an activist who is the head of Legalize Maine. But unlike many who call themselves an “activist”, McCarrier also had the experience necessary to formulate a winning campaign. He’d been a legislative liaison and a registered lobbyist for medical marijuana caregivers in the state who helped author successful bills to improve the medical marijuana program.
As MPP continued their push to the ballot, McCarrier had paid signature gatherers collecting for his petition, sometimes leading to public confusion. Legalize Maine’s signature gatherers would follow behind MPP’s and ask “Hey, do you want to sign a version of what you just signed that would also protect Maine farmers and business?”
McCarrier’s group was aiming at regulations that favored growers, such as having unlimited seedlings and having Maine’s Department of Agriculture Conservation and Forestry control the market oversight. MPP believed that McCarrier’s initiative was too liberal, granting possession of 2.5 ounces rather than just one, and figured that Maine’s Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery would regulate cannabis.
By October 2015 it became obvious to MPP that McCarrier’s Legalize Maine group was not going away and had the ability to make the ballot. For the first time ever, MPP dropped its legalization campaign and got behind the grassroots, more liberal initiative. In addition to the 2.5 ounces (including concentrate) that Maine’s Question 1 will legalize, home growers will be allowed 6 mature plants, 12 immature plants, and unlimited seedlings. There will be adult marijuana lounges. Cannabis consumers are protected in employment, housing, and child custody. Commercial marijuana license fees are the cheapest in the country.
In every marijuana election since 2010, there have always been Stoners Against Legalization who urge you to vote against the initiative that made the ballot.
In 2010, it was California’s Prop 19 whose pot-smoking opponents claimed was setting up a monopoly in Oakland and that better legalization would come along in 2012. It failed and another legalization vote was delayed for six years.
In 2012, it was Washington’s I-502 opponents who wished they had a better legalization to vote for, like the Measure 80 that was on Oregon’s ballot. The more conservative legalization passed in the Pacific Northwest with 55 percent of the vote while the more liberal one failed with just 46 percent.
In 2014, it was Oregon’s Measure 80 proponents who didn’t like the Measure 91 that made the ballot because it was too restrictive. The more conservative legalization passed with a record 56 percent of the vote, ten points better than the last election, even though Measure 80 was during a presidential election (more liberal turnout) and Measure 91 was during a midterm election (more conservative turnout).
In 2015, it was Ohio’s Issue 3 opponents who balked at the constitutional capture of the growing market for ten wealthy investors in the initiative. Faint-hearted support and outright opposition from many marijuana reform groups helped lead Issue 3 to the greatest defeat of a marijuana initiative since the 1980s. The result was MPP retreating from legalization to a limited medical marijuana initiative, which they then dropped when the legislature passed their own even-more limited medical marijuana law. With that angle of support for legalization diminished, it may be another California-like six-or-more years before Ohio tries legalization again.
So in 2016, as you consider your vote for legalization, remember that history shows failed legalization attempts don’t always get a re-vote in the next election, and when they do, it is for something more conservative than what just failed.