By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Two Sonoma County lawyers behind a new statewide effort to legalize marijuana believe 2012 could be their year.
Joe Rogoway and Omar Figueroa have drafted a ballot initiative that would repeal all laws against possessing pot, allowing anyone 18 or older to have up to three pounds and to maintain a 100-square-foot garden. The state Department of Public Health would oversee regulation and taxation of commercial sales.
The measure could go before voters at the November presidential election when turnout is expected to be larger and younger than the 2010 midterms, when voters defeated another referendum to legalize pot, Proposition 19.
“We’re in a more favorable political environment to enact this sort of change,” said Rogoway, a deputy public defender and chief proponent of the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012. “There’s a strong indication that the wind is at our back. “
The initiative, co-written by three activists in the legalization movement, was filed last month with the state Attorney General. The office is expected to give it a title and summary by mid-October before authorizing proponents to begin collecting the more than 500,000 signatures required to put it on the ballot.
Rogoway said a large contingent of volunteers and paid signature gatherers are standing by and will have six months to return the petitions. The most recent polling shows 55 percent of Americans support legalization, his group said.
“This time around, the level of enthusiasm is incredible,” said Figueroa, whose Sebastopol law firm specializes in marijuana defense. “The zeitgeist is now.”
But whether backers can raise the more than $1 million needed to get it on the ballot is unclear. Millions more would be required to mount a successful campaign leading to Nov. 6.
The measure could face competition for donations from another initiative, Regulate Cannabis Like Wine 2012, which is wending its way toward the ballot.
“It’s going to be a long-shot that one gets on the ballot, much less more than one,” said Richard Lee, the chief promoter of Prop. 19 and founder of Oaksterdam University, the Oakland-based training program for marijuana producers. “I think most veteran reformers know that getting the money to get signatures is the first big hurdle.”
Steve Kubby of Regulate Cannabis Like Wine sees other flaws, such as the age limit, which he said should be 21, not 18. And Kubby said the Department of Public Health isn’t equipped to handle regulation. That should be left to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, as his measure proposes.
“When we sat down we agreed society isn’t ready for legalization,” Kubby said. “They prefer a strictly regulated scheme. We’re doing something that all sides can agree on.”
But Rogoway and others believe voters will embrace their initiative. Unlike Prop. 19, it would repeal prohibition of marijuana. And at just 742 words, his proposal is clearer and more concise, he said.
If approved by voters, it would take effect the day after the election. The Department of Health would have 180 days to respond with plans to regulate commercial sales, Rogoway said.
Possession under the three-pound, 100-square-foot garden threshold would be unregulated. Laws prohibiting sales to minors or driving while impaired not be changed, he said.
Already, Rogoway said pot advocates around the state are signaling their support for what he called “the favored initiative.”
If the money can be raised to get it on the ballot, the measure will enjoy broad backing from the public, he predicted.
“It seems this is the issue that resonates with people,” Rogoway said.