Like their constituents, the North Coast’s government representatives are divided on California’s recreational marijuana ballot measure, Proposition 64.
State Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) and Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) were part of a group of legislators that spearheaded the legislative effort to regulate California’s commercial medical marijuana industry in 2015, which paved the way for Proposition 64’s creation.
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But McGuire and Wood have both come out against Proposition 64 as have two other authors of the medical marijuana regulations, according to Wood.
“I support the concept of legalization in the long run,” Wood said Wednesday. “I just don’t support this initiative. Because this initiative is partly good is not enough for me to vote for it when I know there are going to be challenges going forward.”
Proposition 64 would legalize the use, possession, sale, transport, testing, manufacturing and distribution of recreational cannabis for adults who are 21 and older.
California 2nd District Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) has endorsed Proposition 64, calling it “an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.”
Huffman said that if California legalizes recreational marijuana this November, it will be a strong step toward lifting the federal prohibition of marijuana use that has existed since 1970.
“I cannot do that until California and perhaps a few more states show this kind of leadership,” Huffman said Tuesday. “Passing Proposition 64, I believe, is essential to enable me to go back to Washington and change the Controlled Substances Act. I think we’re far closer at the federal level than most people realize. We have a bipartisan coalition that grows with every Congress and has come very close to passing reforms.”
The two other authors of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act — Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) — have also endorsed Proposition 64.
Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts and Arizona will also be voting on legalization measures this November.
For Wood, the initiative comes too soon. “I just wish we had more time to get the medical part of this up,” Wood said. “The states that have done recreational legalization and did medical at the same time have struggled. It has not been that easy.”
Wood referenced Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Sunday interview on 60 Minutes in which Hickenlooper urged states to “wait a couple of years” before passing legalization measures. In 2012, Colorado and Washington state were the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use.
But Huffman disagrees.
“This isn’t perfect,” Huffman acknowledged about the measure, “but I would say that anyone who feels like we should decline this opportunity and wait for something perfect, I believe, is not being realistic. It may be years before another initiative with this very broad support comes back to the ballot, and who’s to say that initiative would please everyone?”
California’s newest medical marijuana regulations, known collectively as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, was actually collection of three bills passed last year. Wood’s bill focused primarily on environmental protections and cultivation limits, which to his disappointment have not been carried over into Proposition 64.
“I don’t believe the initiative will give us the resources we need to tackle that issue,” he said. “It’s not targeted. It’s going to be difficult for communities that need it the most to get to work on the problems.”
For Wood, a part of that issue comes down to the taxes in the proposition. The 15 percent excise tax on recreational marijuana sales and a per ounce tax on cultivation in Proposition 64 were based on early drafts of Wood’s and McGuire’s own medical marijuana tax bills, which were later amended after the input of the cannabis community. However, the amended bills failed to make it through the legislative session this year.
Wood states Proposition 64’s tax rates, in combination with local and state sales taxes, are too high and could lead to people remaining in or even moving into the black market.
The proposition’s allowance of large grow sizes after the first five years of passage has also been a concern for local cultivators, which is shared by McGuire and Wood. The proposition’ allowance for businesses to obtain unlimited business license types is also something that is not allowed under the state’s medical marijuana regulations.
“If there are large industrial grows in other parts of the state, it’s going to detract those folks that are willing to come into compliance and make a go of it in a regulated environment,” Wood said.
The Yes on Proposition 64 campaign has stated in recent interviews with the Times-Standard the state will have the discretion on how many large grows will be permitted and how many licenses a person or business can receive.
Huffman said he also supports the measure because it allows the legislature to amend the recreational laws if needed, but Wood said it will likely not be that easy.
“You won’t be able to make a change that doesn’t further the intent of the initiative,” Wood said. “If someone doesn’t agree with what you want to do, they will protest and find some way to try to block that.”
McGuire was unavailable for an interview on Wednesday.
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.