California NORML is ready for the next crusade—in 2012?
By Benny Lopez
In the wake of Proposition 19’s failure to pass in November, it might seem logical to assume that the California supporters of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) might be demoralized. Yet the tone of a NORML-sponsored conference in Berkeley last month indicates otherwise, according to its organizer, California NORML director Dale Gieringer.
“The mood was very upbeat. A lot of people on our side weren’t that enthusiastic about Proposition 19 and were really looking forward to doing something better next time around,” says Gieringer. “It was an open-forum opportunity for people to air their views about where we should go next with marijuana reform in California . . . There was some discussion of what we would change about Prop. 19 and more discussion about what to do in the future, and a wide diversity of views were discussed.” (The initiative would have allowed adults age 21 and older to possess and grow marijuana for recreational purposes, and gave cities the choice of whether or not allow legal cannabis sales.)
Roughly 300 cannabis legalization activists, dispensary operators, medical marijuana growers and other interested parties squeezed into the David Brower Center near the UC Berkeley campus last month to discuss the movement’s post-Prop. 19 direction. Or directions, rather.
“That’s the issue—there are various different directions,” Gieringer explains. “I think everybody agreed that they would like the adult personal use legalized, and the great majority agreed that we really need to fix-up the medical marijuana laws regarding distribution and production to move towards a more clearly-written and regulated system.”
“One thing that was definitely announced at the conference was that State Senator [Mark] Leno [D-San Francisco] is going to have his bill for medical marijuana employment rights introduced, so [NORML is] definitely going to be supporting that. And [Assemblyman] Tom Ammiano [D-San Francisco] is going to have another marijuana bill of some sort, but the details of that are still being worked out so it’s premature to comment on what they might be. There’s going to be efforts this year I believe to write a ballot initiative for 2012 . . . that’s going to start soon. All of these things are on the table.”
As Proposition 19 only lost by 54 percent of the vote to 46 percent, Gieringer has a pretty rosy, if qualified, view of the current “State of Marijuana” in the Golden State. He points out that the initiative fared better than the Republican nominee for governor, Meg Whitman, in the same November 2 election (by about half a million votes).
“We’re farther along [with California marijuana law reform] than we’ve ever been before, [though] I think everybody agrees that there needs to be some changes made,” Gieringer concludes. “For such a radical proposal, [Prop. 19] ran better than any marijuana legalization measure has ever run—in a year that had a very conservative turnout . . . So all of that is very exciting and promising.
California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has certainly done much to endear himself to the MMJ community. Two years ago, he introduced a bill (the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act) calling for the legalization of cannabis across the state. Last month, he introduced Assembly Bill 1017 which would set a maximum sentence of one year in county jail for people convicted of illegal cultivation. Current laws allow for up to three years in state prison.