2012 Legalization Effort Starts 

Humboldt grapples with its biggest industry; LA dispensaries win again in court

Here we go again. Oaksterdam founder and Proposition 19 creator Richard Lee said late last week that he's part of a new group to legalize cannabis in 2012 in California called California Cannabis Policy Reform. The group recently met at 1776 Broadway in Oakland, the headquarters for Prop 19, the failed November 2 legalization initiative that became one of the most-watched political competitions in the cycle.

Attendees at the first meeting included Lee, California NAACP President Alice Huffman, UFCW organizer Dan Rush, and Ethan Nadelman, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Law Enforcement Against Prohibition also attended the meeting via conference call. The group reviewed polling done in September, October, and November. "We went over what went wrong, what went right, and what we need to do to win," said Lee.

The group is setting itself up as a tax-exempt, nonprofit 501(c)4 corporation for fund-raising, and so will not have to disclose donors. The group also begins with a coalition and funding that only emerged by the end of the Prop 19 battle, including the presence of minority leadership, union leadership, and deep pockets.

The group meets again this week, said Lee, a relatively shy entrepreneur who said he'll try to "take a backseat" in the next election cycle, after being thrust into the spotlight last time. Prop 19 spokespeople Jeff Jones and Dale Jones will act as spokespeople.

The new group faces an uphill battle in crafting an initiative that can garner majority support. A significant minority of Californians are diametrically opposed to any legalization. Only 4 percent of likely voters favor so-called "full legalization" with little to no use restrictions and taxation. The "stoners against legalization," which included weed dispensaries in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Francisco, set an unexpected backfire on Prop 19's line in 2010. Prop 19 lost 46-54. "Of course it's an issue. You need to get as many people as possible, but it's impossible to get everybody, right?" Lee said.

In related news, California NORML hosts the "Marijuana Reform: Next Steps for California" conference on Saturday, January 29, at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

Hippies and Rednecks Unite!

Some fifteen years after Californians okayed medical cannabis, one of the pot-growing capitals of the world, Humboldt County, is finally grappling with how to regulate what is largely regarded as its number one economic engine. The Humboldt County Planning Commission drew vicious snarls of discontent from rural growers January 7 by debating a new "Marijuana Land Use" ordinance that critics say is unworkable.

Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel spokesperson Charley Custer said the planning commission took no action, but he expects to have an ordinance on the books by this time next year. Parts of the ordinance drawing ire include a preposterous "no odor" rule for rural outdoor farms, and strict environmental rules on diesel use, water withdrawals, effluent, and housing codes. Such environmental mandates seem hypocritical given the level of impact from local vineyards, ranches, dairies, and the once-mighty timber industry, critics say.

For example, the proposed rules say there shall be no edibles in Humboldt County, Custer said. "What does that have to do with encouraging industrial growth through proper regulation? They are eagerly quashing modes of economic development."

Custer said the draft rules are copied from urban codes designed to crush indoor pot farming in Arcada. But such municipal regulations are unworkable in rural areas, where rednecks and hippies alike bristle at government involvement. "It's widely observed that county building codes end 500 feet from the road," said Custer.

The issue of regulating pot is being swept into a macro-narrative of "city versus rural" that predates pot's presence in Humboldt, he said. Growers have privately called the draft ordinance "bullshit" and "a continuing attempt to punish and control hippies."

"There's always been deep cultural division among progressives in Humboldt, between the urban leather-patch-on-the-elbows types and the feral hippies in the hills," Custer added.

Unlike in pot stronghold Oakland, industry leaders don't participate financially in county politics. "Pot people express their will in sheer numbers, like a flash mob at the courthouse with hundreds of people waving pitchforks," Custer said. They inherently resent the "pay-to-play" system of government, and consequently, county planning staff is not on their side. Pot farmers are just now learning to flex their political muscles via donations, Custer said.

The Humboldt Medical Marijuana Advisory Panel holds meetings on the draft ordinance this week, Custer said.

Seeds and Stems

Berkeley joined Oakland in halting its process for permitting large-scale indoor pot farms, citing concerns the farms would violate not only federal law but state law, and expose city leaders to criminal prosecution. The Berkeley Voice reported last week that Mayor Tom Bates had suspended the city's plans and will rework the permits, then seek state and federal approval for them. At issue is a required strong connection between patient, grower, and collective. ... Dispensaries remained open in Los Angeles this week after a superior court judge declined to lift an injunction that prevents city officials from shutting down pot clubs. The city established illegal regulations on the clubs in 2010, drawing numerous lawsuits. In December, Mohr ruled sections of LA's ordinance unconstitutional and ordered the city to change them. The city is working to amend its ordinance while asking a state appellate court to lift Mohr's injunction, the Los Angeles Times reported.

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