CMA Capitol Insight: August 5, 2015

August 05, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.

Recess, but not rest

It may be recess for the Legislature, but that doesn’t mean a rest for politics. While lawmakers were scattered off to their districts or far-away lands for the summer junket season, the anti-vax forces were busy gathering signatures to recall Senator Richard Pan, M.D., for authoring Senate Bill 277, which removes the personal belief exemption from school vaccination requirements.

While it is unclear whether an actual referendum on SB 277 will qualify for the November 2016 ballot, it may be cheaper and easier for the anti-vaxxers to qualify a Dr. Pan recall to put the issue of vaccinations front and center once again in our political discourse.

Qualifying a ballot measure requires gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures, and money to obtain them. Referendum laws also require proponents of a repeal effort to submit those signatures within 90 days of a bill being signed, which typically increases the costs of any signature-gathering effort.

A recall would be much cheaper, with an estimated price tag of about $100,000 to qualify the recall. It would also be a much cheaper campaign to run, though Dr. Pan would likely receive strong financial support from the California Medical Association and other allies who have supported him in the past.

It also gives anti-vaxxers more time. Proponents have until December 31, 2015, to collect 35,926 verified signatures from the 436,318 registered voters in his district.

Of course, a Dr. Pan recall election would not be statewide – only voters in his Sacramento-area district would have a chance to cast a ballot – but it would inevitably gain statewide attention as a referendum on SB 277 and the idea of mandatory vaccinations for public school children.

Speaking of legislative fights, there are currently six different proposals to legalize recreational marijuana use that have been submitted to the Attorney General’s office for review. But the real focus is on a coalition of the Drug Policy Alliance, funded by Napster founder Sean Parker. Parker is a relative newcomer to the California political scene, but has dedicated millions to spend on issues he believes in. Pot legalization, apparently, is one of those issues.

Last month, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has come out in favor of legalization, announced the release of a 93-page report from his Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy. The extensive report is meant to serve as a guide for initiative drafters as they work on crafting a measure that may win the support of California voters in 2016.

Among the key findings of the report: policymakers should not rely on revenues from cannabis taxes to fund other government programs. The levies should be substantial enough to cover increased law enforcement costs, public education and health costs, but not for general government operations.

“Marijuana should not be California’s next gold rush,” Newsom warned.

The report, which was authored by a commission that was co-chaired by Newsom and ACLU of Northern California, also emphasized the need for flexibility in implementing legalization, and that a proposed ballot measure would be the beginning, not the end, of the legalization process.

Voters in four other states and the District of Columbia have voted for some kind of recreational marijuana legalization. Washington and Colorado are the furthest along, with recreational sales set to begin in Oregon next year. The report draws on lessons from the states that have wrestled with legalization – including whether and how to establish a recreational market alongside a medical marijuana market, which may be taxed and regulated differently.

But the authors emphasized that California has a set of unique characteristics that require special attention from policymakers and regulators. Among them is the fact that California is a net exporter of marijuana, and produces as much as 40 percent of the pot sold on the illicit market.

You can read the entire report (and the shorter executive summary) here.


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