What do you think of California’s brand new pot initiative?

IT'S A MIXED BAG, but I’m getting on board. Last week, California announced that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) officially has a home on the state’s November ballot. Over the past year, the concept of legalization among California voters has been polling very well. It seems almost certain the AUMA will pass.

My law firm’s California attorneys have been looking at AUMA intensively for the past few months, and report that the 62-pager is more complex than Washington, Oregon, and Colorado’s initiatives. For example, AUMA provides for an astonishing 19 separate business licenses, and its distribution model recalls the convoluted rules of booze. For these and other reasons AUMA has many opponents, even among pot boosters.

The most interesting AUMA takedown we have encountered to date comes from Mark Kleiman, a corporate cannabis scold who made a name for himself consulting with Washington’s legalization rollout circa 2012. When not moonlighting out West, Kleiman teaches public policy at New York University. He refers to AUMA as “horrible, awful, very bad no-good drug policy.” He also says he would vote for it.

Kleiman argues that AUMA will not keep the price of weed high enough. He argues that if weed is cheap, increased cannabis use disorder will result. While not an acute “disease,” that disorder is an official diagnosis culled from a host of factors that shows weed is negatively impacting someone’s life. Corporations that profit by promoting increased, habitual use via cheap marijuana are a societal negative, says Kleiman.

The whys and wherefores behind Kleiman’s economic analysis are too wonky to deal with here, and the rebuttals are wonkier still. In the very big picture, however, it is fair to say that speculation on price points for pot is a dilettante’s game. This is because AUMA will be made into sausage by the legislature, repurposed further by administrative rules, and eventually look quite different than what is proposed this November. You may remember a similar process here with Oregon’s Measure 91.

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Kleiman is likely correct that AUMA will benefit corporate interests. California politicians can take the fall for that, by not stepping up and addressing weed with standard legislation. In such cases, wealthy people typically enter the legislative vacuum and fund pot initiatives, because they see a business line on weed. Very few voters will scour the 62 pages of AUMA prior to voting. Instead, they will simply check “Yes” because weed should be legal; or “No,” because not.

There is no perfect pot initiative and, in my opinion, AUMA is not a tremendous overreach like last November’s failed land grab in Ohio. If the legislature is not going to act, people in progressive “initiative” states will push these things through. They will do so for the simple reason that prohibition is a drag. After that, it gets interesting.