California Legal Marijuana Provisions Get Environmental Group Backing

Even as Ohioans go to the polls to vote on a controversial marijuana legalization measure on Tuesday, many observers are already looking ahead to next year, when cannabis questions are likely to be on the ballot in five or more states.

On Monday, a broad-based, well-funded coalition filed the initiative that’s likely to be put before California voters in 2016.

Expected to receive funding from Napster co-founder and early Facebook investor Sean Parker, the measure has already won an endorsement from the state’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom.

The measure “presents California its best opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access,” Newsom said in a series of tweets. “It is backed by the broadest coalition of supporters to date and I believe that Californians will rally behind this consensus measure, which also serves to strengthen law enforcement, respect local preferences, protect public health and public safety and restore the environment.”

On that last point, the measure’s provisions have been praised by major environmental organizations. The initiative sets aside a large chunk of marijuana tax revenues to the state’s Environmental Restoration and Protection Account, to be used for environmental cleanup, restoration of public lands damaged by cultivation and enforcement against illegal water diversion.

Writing in a joint letter, groups like The Nature Conservancy, Audubon California, California Council of Land Trusts, California State Parks Foundation, Defenders of Wildlife and others say that the measure “addresses critical environmental needs that we have identified and provides a framework to protect streams and rivers and habitat values for fish and wildlife.”

Environmental Groups Endorse Marijuana Initiative Provisions

     Groups that have endorsed the measure’s environmental provisions.

The organizations are concerned that under prohibition, illegal marijuana growers divert rivers and streams to water their plants, clear-cut sections of forest and often use polluting chemicals that run off into nearby waters.

“The status quo for the marijuana industry has resulted in enormous environmental impacts to California’s land, water supply and wildlife,” they write. “In addition, illegal grows have impaired public safety and made many of our rich and diverse park, forest and wild lands inaccessible to ordinary citizens.”

In a separate letter, Nature Conservancy’s Jay Ziegler wrote that passing the initiative will “represent a major step forward in protecting California’s rich natural resources in the future.” His group estimates that the marijuana tax earmark would amount to $125 million per year for environmental programs.

The initiative, dubbed the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is backed by major movement groups like the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance and the California Cannabis Industry Association.

(Full disclosure: It has also been reported that the measure is likely to receive financial backing from Justin Hartfield, CEO of Weedmaps, which owns and operates Marijuana.com.)

Here is an overview of some of the measure’s main provisions:

  • Allows adults age 21 and over to possess, transport, purchase, consume and share up to an ounce of nonmedical marijuana.
  • Legal sales would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax, in addition to state and local sales taxes.
  • The legal industry would be regulated by a Bureau of Marijuana Control within California Department of Consumer Affairs, which would license marijuana stores. The Department of Food and Agriculture would oversee marijuana growers. The Department of Public Health would regulate product testing labs.
  • Adults could  grow up to six plants at their homes for nonmedical use.
  • Using marijuana in public would remain illegal.
  • Driving under the influence of marijuana would remain illegal.

For more details, see this summary.

Once the submitted proposal’s language is vetted by the state attorney general, organizers must collect 365,880 valid signatures of registered voters to qualify for the November 8, 2016 ballot.

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