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This California Ballot Initiative Favors People, Not Lobbyists

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) may be California's leading (read: most well-funded) cannabis legalization campaign, with an impact which will likely reach far beyond the state's borders; but despite that, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act (MCLR) offered by Americans for Policy Reform may be even more of a game-changer – even if it doesn't pass.

Policy-wise, MCLR hits all the right notes: it legalizes a wide range of cannabis activity, from its cultivation to its distribution through all manner of outlets, including farmer's markets, on-site consumption, and even veterinary care.

The production of extracts (hashish, oil etc.) is clearly legalized, ending a long battle in California over the supposed legality of such practices. California's current collective industry will finally be able to emerge from the shadows of creative accounting to make unambiguous, legal profits.

MCLR would set a lower tax rate

And in the event that any player runs afoul of the state's new policies, MCLR contains a provision guaranteeing that no one who does so shall be charged with a felony.

In this regard MCLR hews a different path than AUMA, which de-escalates cannabis offenses across the board but retains felony status for a few activities such as employing minors in cannabis businesses or shipping large quantities across state borders. It also sets a more sensible tax rate, capped at 15 percent statewide and forbidding any taxes on medical supplies (AUMA exempts medical marijuana from some but not all taxes). Like AUMA, it provides local governments with the power to ban cannabis businesses within their jurisdictions; but unlike AUMA it requires a vote of the people of the city or county for the ban to be valid.

It engages regular people in the process

But even more important than MCLR's language is the process by which it came about. The campaign's organizers have employed a bold and innovative process to use marijuana legalization as a vehicle for transforming democracy itself: instead of using a team of lawyers and lobbyists to draft the initiative's language, Americans for Policy Reform empowered an unprecedented number of ordinary citizens to decide the future of their cannabis policy by harnessing the power of the internet.

The group used Google Docs, an online collaborative writing tool, to create a platform where any California voter could log on and leave their comments on the language, which the group's lawyers then faithfully condensed into three versions, all of which have been submitted to the Secretary of State. The result is initiative language which is essentially immune to the influence of lobbyists and other moneyed interests.

Unfortunately, the populist nature of the campaign is both its greatest strength and its Achilles' heel. While the experiment in direct democracy has garnered plenty of admirers, the money has yet to flow. AUMA has the support not only of a tech billionaire but also the powerful, well-funded Drug Policy Alliance and Marijuana Policy Project, two groups with excellent track records of passing significant drug policy reforms.

It already failed once from lacking of funding

MCLR has nothing of the sort. The initiative sits in a kind of uncanny valley between perfect populism and the demands of the Jacobin free-the-weed die-hards, and its inability to navigate the demands of middle-of-the-road soccer mom voters, who have demonstrated through multiple polls that they want a tightly controlled and regulated system similar to AUMA's, may prove its undoing. Indeed, we've seen this before: MCLR also attempted to legalize in 2014 but failed to make it on the ballot because of a lack of funds.

This is nothing which cannot be solved through greater voter participation, however. In a system in which Hillary Clinton can lose by 20 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote to Bernie Sanders and still garner the same number of state delegates to the Democratic convention, the American system of "representative" democracy is clearly due for a major shake-up. If the drafting of MCLR came as a result of a truly representative sample of US voters instead of the pipe dreams of its most liberal fringe elements, it would be well positioned to cruise to victory this November.

Currently, MCLR is on the ropes and needs help. The group has a bold plan to short-circuit the expensive process of gathering signatures for the California ballot by providing a link where state voters can download and print out their own petition signature forms; if successful, the effort will make a forceful statement to the political establishment that the American people are ready to take their country back.

If you live in California and are ready to make your voice heard, take a few minutes to turn yours in. The difference you make could extend far beyond cannabis legalization, to transform our broken democracy at its core.

This is Jeremy Daw's second piece for Civilized on potential ballot initiatives for California in 2016. His first one focused on the initiative sponsored by Sean Parker. Daw is the editor of the cannabis legalization news and analysis web site, He is also the co-author (with Chris Conrad) of The Newbie's Guide to Cannabis and the Industry, available this spring from, an imprint of Whitman Books.


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