Battle lines form over adult use cannabis vote

Commentary from R.E. Graswich

Hopes for an easy election by adult-use marijuana advocates have crashed into a reality check.

A group of political heavy hitters, led by former Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy, has raised more than $2 million to fight recreational cannabis legalization in California and four other states.

The opposition exposes the vulnerability of Prop. 64, the November ballot initiative in California that would allow adults to possess one ounce of cannabis without a medical recommendation.

Supported by Kennedy's national coalition, Smart Approaches to Marijuana, adult-use foes have several compelling arguments to share with voters.

Two of those arguments have been used to derail previous marijuana legalization efforts: the new law will benefit a only handful of wealthy opportunists, and young people and disadvantaged neighborhoods will be exploited by global conglomerates dominating the industry.

"If legalization wins, it creates an environment where a small number of people are going to get rich," anti-Prop. 64 organizer Kevin Sabet told the Los Angeles Times. Sabet is a former drug policy advisor to President Obama.

The Prop. 64 challenge contrasts with medical cannabis regulatory language past last year by the California State Legislature and signed by Gov. Brown. The legislative package was supported by a diverse collection of stakeholders, including growers, dispensaries, patients, local governments and law enforcement.

Adult use advocates enjoy no such collaboration in California. Other than Sean Parker, the venture capitalist who has sunk $2.5 million into Prop. 64, and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the initiative has struggled to attract statewide, top-level political support.

Even within the cannabis industry, independent and craft cultivators have refused to support Prop. 64. They point to its governing language that encourages vertical integration -- where large-scale growers can dominate the industry by controlling retail sales sites, farms and manufacturing facilities.

Regulations for medical cannabis prohibit such vertical integration. Licensing rules prevent growers from distributing or selling the product in retail dispensaries.

Kennedy, whose father was the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, has a more emotional explanation for his opposition to recreational marijuana.

"It is putting our children at risk and has exposed children from communities of color to more racial discrimination than before," Kennedy told the Times. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is among the public officials who have joined Kennedy's group.

Prop. 64 still has plenty of support -- and money, with more than $6 million raised. Opponents will likely not match the venture capital industry dollars, but they will have enough money to get their message heard by California voters.

And California voters are historically skeptical about recreational cannabis -- the most recent adult-use initiative was rejected in 2010.

No wonder the anti-Prop 64 combination of legacy cultivators, law enforcement and elected officials is causing anxieties among Parker and friends.


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