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NORML Backs Legalization Initiative

One of the nation’s largest marijuana reform groups has endorsed the leading proposal to legalize the drug in California’s November election.

Sean Parker
Sean Parker

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) announced in February that it would support the initiative spearheaded by tech billionaire Sean Parker. His group has dramatically out-raised every competing effort.

There are roughly 20 of those petitions, though the numbers are starting to shrink as Parker’s success drives smaller players out of the game. It’s critical that one group draw more support and money than the others, since voters faced with multiple similar questions on the ballot will almost always reject all of them.

Smaller competing initiatives dropping out

The announcement comes as Parker, his fellow advocates, and their proposed Adult Use of Marijuana Act seek to concentrate endorsements from both California and the national level. They have already won the support of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state branch of the NAACP.

Allen St. Pierre, chief executive of NORML, said the outcome of the election is hugely significant.

“On the matter of ending marijuana prohibition in America, as California goes, so too goes the rest of the nation,” St. Pierre said.

Parker and his group unveiled their initiative last fall, and they have been working ever since to gather endorsements and political support. Their success could drive even more of the small petitions out of contention. Several have already decided they have little chance against a massive fund-raising machine.

Some grassroots activists not endorsing Parker’s initiative

Marijuana Plant“It’s hard to compete with a billionaire who wants to do things his way,” said Dale Gieringer, head of NORML’s California branch. Gieringer has declined to join his group’s endorsement.

He’s not alone. There is a certain amount of animosity between veteran grassroots activists like Gieringer and more slicked-back corporate types like Parker. Unfortunately, concerns about chances of success in November often drop by the wayside.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act would set a relatively low limit on possession, 1 ounce, and would allow cultivation of six plants at home. This is all within the range of the laws passed in Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, as are Parker’s tax proposals. And the initiative would provide protections for children and criminal defendants.

Liberal proposals stand little chance

But it doesn’t sit well with many activists, who would prefer no limit on possession or cultivation, minimal regulations, and small or non-existent taxes. None of these ideas would ever fly with voters in November.

Gieringer originally gave his personal backing – though not his organization’s – to another initiative, Reform California, whose backers have been outspoken in their problems with Parker’s measure. Unlike many of the small petitions, this one is relatively conservative. But it differs from Parker’s plan in several key aspects, including protections for medical marijuana patients.

But, Gieringer noted, “there were problems in all of the initiatives.” That doesn’t mean California NORML won’t make an endorsement eventually, he said.

“Our policy remains that we don’t endorse things until they have qualified for the ballot,” he said. “I think we will endorse any ballot measure that gets on the ballot.”

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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