Capitol Alert

Sacramento doctor to lead push to legalize marijuana in California

Marijuana plants grow on a residential property in a garden in Lake County.
Marijuana plants grow on a residential property in a garden in Lake County. Los Angeles Times

Donald Lyman, a retired physician and former board member at the California Medical Association, said Monday he will lead a well-funded statewide effort to legalize recreational marijuana next year.

Lyman, of Sacramento, is the chief proponent for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the long-awaited legalization measure introduced Monday that’s expected to receive funding from former Facebook president Sean Parker and be guided by veteran Democratic political consultant Gale Kaufman.

The proposed initiative, which is supported by two national cannabis groups, along with environmental and social justice organizations, is one of several aiming for next year’s statewide ballot. It is seen as among the most likely to qualify and withstand an opposition campaign given its financial backers.

The legalization push by Lyman and conservationist Michael Sutton would allow adults 21 years and older to possess, use and share up to an ounce of marijuana. It would impose a 15 percent excise tax on all retail sales, though localities could still ban marijuana sales in their jurisdictions.

It is the product of months of negotiations, and comes after Gov. Jerry Brown helped broker medical cannabis regulations in the Legislature. Brown’s actions followed the release of a report by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom urging a cautious approach to legalizing recreational marijuana. Newsom, a candidate for governor in 2018, said Monday he supports the measure and that it aligned with his recommendations.

“It is backed by the broadest coalition of supporters to date, and I believe that Californians will rally behind this consensus measure, which also serves to strengthen law enforcement, respect local preferences, protect public health and public safety, and restore the environment,” Newsom said.

Parker, while not discussing his level of financial involvement, said in a written statement that he’s been following the marijuana legalization drive with great interest for some time.

“It’s very encouraging to see a vibrant community of activists, many of whom have dedicated their lives to this issue, coming together around a sensible reform based measure that protects children, gives law enforcement additional resources, and establishes a strong regulatory framework for responsible adult use of marijuana – one that will yield economic benefits for all Californians.

“I’m cautiously optimistic that a coalition is forming around these shared goals.”

Others on board with the effort include the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project and California Cannabis Industry Association.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, cited its “pragmatic regulatory provisions,” while Nate Bradley, executive director of the industry group, said it will allow California to take its “rightful place” as the center of investment and innovation in the cannabis economy.

Still, there remain fractures in the contentious cannabis advocacy community.

George Mull, a Sacramento attorney representing the California Cannabis Association, said the group was filing its own initiative because the marijuana industry business group didn’t like some of the language in the Adult Use of Marijuana Measure.

Mull said the initiative, which bans alcohol and cigarette retailers from selling pot, leaves a loophole that could allow major brewers and big tobacco companies to get in on marijuana manufacturing or distribution.

“We’re still hopeful that we’re going to find common ground, he said. “But we haven’t reached it yet.”

San Francisco attorney Matt Kumin, executive director of the legalization advocacy group California Cannabis Voice, said the initiative succeeds by recognizing and regulating “cannabis as agriculture.” But he said he was disappointed that the measure would impose criminal penalties for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana, including up to six months in jail for possession for sale.

“Over an ounce is a criminal penalty. Is that legalization?” Kumin said.

Lyman, a former state public health deputy director who oversaw the tobacco control program, characterized the measure as comprehensive and carefully written. In 2011, he authored a white paper for the CMA that called for the legalization of marijuana. The group, representing more than 40,000 doctors statewide, said in the declaration that the federal marijuana ban was “a failed public health policy.”

The doctors’ lobby also said states such as California with medical marijuana programs put the medical profession in the awkward position of having to serve as gatekeeper for people wanting to legally use marijuana.

“The prohibition thing hasn’t worked, and we need something different,” Lyman said in an interview Monday.

Lyman is serving as an individual proponent, not as a representative for the CMA. Dustin Corcoran, head of the CMA, has been in contact with drafters of the initiative, Lyman said.

“It’s very clear that Dustin and Parker are very determined that something happen,” he said. “He (Corcoran) wants to get one of these things passed that fits into the criteria of the white paper. That would be very pleasing.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

Legalizing marijuana

Major provisions of a proposed marijuana legalization measure

  • Legalizes possession of one ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six plants by adults 21 and over
  • Imposes 15 percent taxes on retail sales of recreational marijuana in addition to state and local sales taxes
  • Establishes a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for marijuana flowers (or buds) and $2.75 per ounce for marijuana leaves
  • Allows local governments to ban recreational marijuana businesses with local voter approval
  • Imposes an infraction and maximum fine of $100 for possession of more than an ounce of marijuana
  • Allows penalties of a $500 fine or up to six months in county jail for possession of marijuana for sale
  • Maintains the rights of employers to require drug-free workplaces or enact policies prohibiting marijuana use by employees