A well-funded effort to legalize marijuana in California in 2016 just received a surprise endorsement from a key longtime movement player.
Marijuana.com has exclusively learned that Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the chief proponent of an earlier legalization measure that Golden State voters narrowly defeated in 2010, is endorsing the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), an effort backed by a group of Silicon Valley funders led by Napster co-founder and early Facebook investor Sean Parker.
“It’s important that we all get together to support one initiative,” Lee said in an interview.
Lee is a board member of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR), which has been working to build support for a separate proposal through a campaign called Reform California. Despite working for years to craft a consensus measure that could earn support from the movement’s various constituencies, the group has struggled to secure the funding it would take to pay for the signature gathering needed to qualify for the ballot and for an effective campaign to win on Election Day.
“I believe a majority of the [CCPR] board is ready to endorse the Parker initiative at the next board meeting,” Lee said.
In addition to Parker, AUMA is reportedly being supported by Hyatt Hotel heirs Nick and Joby Pritzker as well as Graham Boyd, who advises the estate of late Progressive auto insurance chairman Peter B. Lewis.
Despite Lee’s call for unity, it appears that not all of CCPR’s key players are ready to line up behind the Parker-backed effort yet.
“ReformCA is the leading statewide campaign committed to working with all groups and stakeholders to ensure we have the strongest policy for our state, and the best chance to win at the ballot box next November, through a single, unified initiative,” CCPR Chairwoman Dale Sky Jones wrote in a fundraising email on November 2, just hours after media reports surfaced about the competing AUMA effort’s ballot language being filed with the state. [Bolded emphasis in original.]
Two days later, following the defeat of an investor-backed legalization measure in Ohio, Jones sent another fundraising pitch to the group’s list. “ReformCA has filed its initiative in an open, transparent process with scores of public meetings and thousands of discussions and consultations with every segment of the community,” she wrote in a message read by many recipients as drawing a comparison between the AUMA team and the group behind the failed Ohio effort, the latter of which wasn’t broadly supported within the marijuana reform community. “ReformCA remains committed to building a united movement for reform that benefits all Californians, not just ‘Big Marijuana.’”
Jones did not respond to Marijuana.com’s request for comment about Lee’s endorsement of the AUMA effort prior to press time.
Lee, in an interview on Tuesday, said that CCPR board members are working with AUMA’s drafters to “make some improvements that we think could be made” to its language, but he wouldn’t specify which provisions in particular were sticking points.
Nate Bradley, who is also on CCPR’s board and is the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, which endorsed AUMA on the day it was filed, said in an interview that he is “very excited” about Lee’s endorsement.
“It’s important for CCPR to join the coalition, so we can all stand in support as one unified voice,” Bradley said. “This will allow us to work together to make sure the AUMA is the best drafted initiative it can be.”
The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project, two of the most well-funded organizations in the cannabis law reform movement, have also signed on to support AUMA. Previously the groups cooperated with CCPR’s Reform California effort as it held a series of listening sessions across the state, but they asked that their logos be removed from its website in the weeks leading up to the AUMA language being filed.
It is unknown when or whether CCPR will hold a board vote on formally endorsing the Parker effort.
Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and a CCPR board member, held out hope for unity. “One thing California has in abundance is smart, responsible reformists who have dedicated years of their lives to legalizing, regulating and controlling marijuana,” he said in an email, emphasizing he wasn’t speaking on behalf of any organization. “We’re all after the same thing and I hope we’re able to work together to achieve it.”
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