CALIFORNIA: As marijuana legalization advocates prepare another statewide ballot measure, the question remains: Will Humboldt County get on board this time?
The latest legalization effort comes on the heels of legalization in Colorado and Washington state and amid a rising backlash against the environmental damage being caused by large grows. Often in public forests or on private timber land, sometimes connected to Mexican cartels, stream diversions and heavy use of pesticides and fertilizers, clear cutting and soil grading at massive outdoor grow sites are being cited by more than one side in the legalization debate.
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos said he thinks it is rational to decriminalize marijuana and regulate it.
”I think it is legitimately a public health issue, and I think it only becomes a public safety issue because of the criminalization,” Gallegos said. “The criminalization of marijuana has been what’s paradoxically created the public safety issues associated with it, in my opinion. … I certainly welcome that change in the law, if it comes, and I certainly would support it.”
Some supporters of legalization say the proposed California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014 would only make matters worse.
”I think that if this initiative were to pass, it would only exacerbate the environmental problems we’re seeing now in Humboldt County with marijuana cultivation,” said documentary filmmaker Mikal Jakubal, whose film “One Good Year” follows the lives of four medical marijuana growers in Humboldt County. “It’s going to be completely impossible to enforce. It’s going to be even more cover for people growing for the black market and shipping out of state.”
The last time California voters weighed in on marijuana legalization, more local voters agreed with the filmmaker than the district attorney — with most of Humboldt County giving a resounding “no” to Proposition 19 in 2010.
Southern Humboldt saw 65 percent of voters oppose the measure, followed by Fortuna at 63 percent, Willow Creek at 59 percent, Eureka at 53 percent and McKinleyville at 51. The numbers flipped in Arcata and Trinidad, where voters favored the measure by 57 and 58 percent of voters, respectively.
Fellow “Emerald Triangle” counties Mendocino and Trinity also rejected the proposition, and 53.5 percent of voters statewide rejected the measure.
Humboldt County Sheriff Mike Downey said a choice needs to be made: enforce existing marijuana laws or legalize it.
”But a state ballot initiative is not going to do it,” Downey said. “We still have the feds out there saying it’s against the law, so there has to be a national referendum.”
Tony Silvaggio of the Center for Cannabis and Social Policy said Californians love to be on the front end of things. He said even conservatives hate being beat to the punch.
”I think that people in California, if there was actually a measure for legalization and it was on the ballot, I think it would pass,” Silvaggio said. “We don’t want to get left behind.”
Silvaggio added that all eyes are turning to Washington state to see how well it regulates marijuana. That will shape what happens in California, he said.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, a national nonprofit dedicated to reforming marijuana laws, said that recently released Public Policy Institute of California poll numbers indicate that more and more Californians favor legalization.
For the first time, a majority of California residents support legalizing pot, significant given the growing movement to do so in other states. Sixty percent of likely voters now back making marijuana legal in California, which in 1996 approved medicinal use.
”There is definitely more than enough support to get the signatures and qualify for the ballot,” St. Pierre said. “The question really, frankly, is only a matter of resources.”
Proponents of the measure must collect the signatures of 504,760 registered voters by Feb. 24 to qualify for the 2014 ballot.