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The Battle for Legal Cannabis in California Ignites: Napster Co-Founder Sean Parker’s Initiative Heats Things Up

The battle in California to legalize marijuana is heating up. An alliance of industry organizations and wealthy supporters, spearheaded by Napster co-founder and jet-setting billionaire Sean Parker, are looking to disrupt the cannabis industry just as Parker did in the music and technology industries. Sacramento political consultant Gale Kaufman and the capital political law firm Olson Hagel & Fishburn were engaged to draft the 2016 initiative.

On Nov 2, official proponents of the measure (Michael Sutton, an environmental attorney and Dr Donald O Lyman, a member of the California Medical Association) filed ballot language with the state. The Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act is one of many measures already submitted and intended for the 2016 election.

California Seed-to-Sale Tracking & Commercial Regulations

Not to be distracted by the names behind the initiative, here is what the seed-to-sale system of commercial regulations proposed by the Parker group would do if approved by voters:

  • allow adults 21 and over to possess, process, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away to persons 21 and over, not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana not in the form of concentrated cannabis
  • allow adults 21 and over to possess, process, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away to persons 21 and over, not more than four grams of marijuana in the form of concentrated cannabis, including as contained in marijuana products such as concentrates, edibles and topicals
  • require existing patients to obtain by January 1, 2018, a recommendation that meets the strict standards signed into law by the Governor in 2015
  • permit growing and processing up to six living plants at one time and possessing the marijuana grown for personal recreational use
  • prohibit “freebies” – no amount of marijuana or any marijuana-related products can be used as giveaways as part of a business promotion or other commercial activity
  • rename the Bureau of Medical Marijuana control to simplify the Bureau of Marijuana Control which will have authority over both medical and recreational
  • give priority in issuing licenses to applicants who already exist and are able to demonstrate they are in compliance with existing laws; local cities and counties will give the state a green list of their priority licensees
  • empower the CA Department of Consumer Affairs with exclusive authority over licenses for transportation, storage unrelated to manufacturing activities, distribution, and sale
  • grant the Dept of Consumer Affairs with oversight and licensing of retailers, distributors and microbusinesses, with licenses issued beginning in 2018
  • task the Dept of Food and Agriculture with administering cultivation
  • give the Dept of Public Health authority over manufacturing and testing
  • convene an advisory committee whose members would include, but not be limited to, representatives of the marijuana industry, representatives of labor organizations, appropriate state and local agencies, public health experts, and other subject matter experts, including representatives from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control
  • authorize the State Board of Equalization to collect the special marijuana taxes, with the Controller allocating the revenue to administer the new law and providing the funds to critical investments
  • impose a 15 percent excise tax on sales of medical and recreational cannabis, with recreational transactions subject to additional sales and use tax imposed by state and local governments; cultivation would be taxed as well, at a rate of $9.25 for every ounce of dried buds and $2.75 an ounce for leaves
  • require tracking and tracing management procedures to track the plant from cultivation to sale
  • require minors who commit marijuana-related offenses to complete drug prevention education or counseling and community service
  • authorize courts to consider petitions for penalty reductions or expungement by persons who are currently serving a sentence for offenses for which the penalty is reduced by the Act
  • allow industrial hemp to be grown as an agricultural product, and for agricultural or academic research, and regulated separately from the strains of cannabis with higher delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations
  • require comprehensive testing by independent testing services for the presence of contaminants, including mold and pesticides, before sale
  • create strict environmental regulations to crack down on the illegal use of water and punish bad actors
  • create stricter dosing, packaging and labeling guidelines for marijuana and marijuana-related products, including but not limited to a standardized dosage of cannabinoids not to exceed 10 milligrams tetrahydrocannabinol per serving
  • impose stricter guidelines on cannabis related advertising, including but not limited to, restrictions on making health-related claims and using elements such as music or art that would appeal to those under age

mppIn a statement Parker issued about the proposed initiative, he said “It’s very encouraging to see a vibrant community of activists … coming together around a sensible reform-based measure that protects children, gives law enforcement additional resources and establishes a strong regulatory framework for responsible adult use of marijuana — one that will yield economic benefits for all Californians.”

The Marijuana Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance and the California Cannabis Industry Association, are reportedly on board. Lt Gov Gavin Newsom endorses the proposal, calling it a “thoughtful measure.” Letters of support have been submitted by several environmental groups.

Can Community Support Come Together Behind One Measure?

It is important to remember that the Parker initiative isn’t the only measure fighting for a spot on the ballot. Groups like the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, which submitted its own initiative on October 2 with the backing of the president of the California NAACP, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2016, which began collecting signatures this week, the Cannabis Control and Taxation Act filed by George Mull, and several others are going to need to add significant resources to their arsenal to compete with the deep pockets, political connections and celebrity presence attached to Parker ballot initiative. It takes a big pot of money, millions and millions, to run a winning campaign. The Parker initiative is well prepared for the battle with its heavy artillery of wealthy and connected individuals, who some fear are motivated by profits as much as activism.

Can community support come together behind one measure, or will it be split among multiple initiatives? The breadth of the content and the approach for setting industry and cultivation rules and the focus on social justice are just some of the issues contributing to the disjointed effort. Many marijuana advocates are concerned that intense divisions within the cannabis community, which they blame for the defeat of Prop 19 in 2010, will deliver the same result in 2016.