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California Democrats Promise to Back Legalization in November

California Democrats say they plan to support legalization of marijuana in the November election.

California Democratic Party LogoA public initiative calling for legal cannabis is likely to appear on the ballot, and the California Democratic Party said its members still back legalization.

The promise came at the party’s annual convention in late February, with party leaders saying in a statement that Democrats support “the legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana, in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.”

The party adopted a similar stance in 2014, when advocates tried unsuccessfully to put the question on that year’s ballot. But this time members voted to change the legalization plank in the California Democratic platform, adding language stating that reformers should put “the health and safety of California’s communities over revenue or profits.”

Legalization proposal amended to avoid “Big Marijuana”

The amended plank makes it clear that the party will work to avoid the possibility of a “Big Marijuana” industry. This has been a bogeyman of legalization opponents, who claim profits will drive unethical companies to encourage underage marijuana use.

There are legitimate concerns about the corporatizing of legal cannabis. Many neutral observers and even reform advocates are asking for tougher regulations to prevent the industry from advertising or making edible products targeted at children.

This year’s ballot push has largely coalesced around a single initiative, led by tech billionaire Sean Parker. The former Facebook president and Napster founder has already donated $1 million to the cause and is likely to provide more funding.

Sean Parker’s leading proposal

Parker’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act would let adults possess as much as an ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to six plants at home. The proposed law would also regulate a new cannabis industry and provide for a 15 percent sales tax.

The initiative would explicitly ban any advertising aimed at children or posted in school zones. Strict rules would require government testing and labeling of cannabis products, including edibles. Democrats insisted on these provisions before announcing their support.

Activists are currently gathering voter signatures so the issue can appear on the ballot. They need more than 365,000. Along with Parker, several large national reform groups have donated hundreds of thosands of dollars; the campaign has already raised more than $2 million, including Parker’s donations.

Widespread support for legalization

leavesMajor backers include the California Medical Association and the state branch of the NAACP. Other prominent Democrats, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have offered their support.

But not every Democrat is on board. Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein are both pushing back against Parker’s campaign.

The party’s endorsement doesn’t apply to the Adult Use of Mariuana Act specifically, but Democrats’ support of legalization will likely spur more voters to go along. The idea already has strong public support, with a recent poll showing 60 percent of voters want to legalize the drug.

Forty-three percent of California’s voters are Democrats, while just 28 percent are Republicans and 5 percent support other parties.

This year’s campaign is the third serious effort to make cannabis legal. Both of the two most recent efforts failed. The first, in 2010, made the ballot but couldn’t win over enough voters in the election. The second, four years later, didn’t even get on the ballot due to infighting among activists.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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