Activist Steve Kubby Wants to Regulate Marijuana Like Wine in California
Proposition 19, the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California, was narrowly defeated during the November 2010 election. At the time, we figured tenacious activists would start building the next legalization campaign right away. We were right.
Steve Kubby, one of the activists responsible for the successful Proposition 215 that legalized medical marijuana in California in 1996, is back with a new initiative that is already gaining support and making headlines, thanks to the help of some big-name supporters like former US Judge Jim Gray.
In July, Kubby and his team were cleared to begin circulating ballot petitions after the title and summary of their new initiative, The Regulate Marijuana Like Wine Act of 2012, was accepted by the California Secretary of States's office.
Cannabis Culture Editor Jeremiah Vandermeer is pleased to present this interview with Steve Kubby, recorded on Thursday, July 28, 2011.
Cannabis Culture: Great to see all of the positive media attention payed to your proposed initiative in recent weeks. This must be giving the campaign quite a boost.
Steve Kubby: Were pretty happy – I mean we were in USA Today, The Washington Post. I saw a report in Turkey. We were even on a Spanish-language channel in Southern California, so we know there's a pretty high level of interest.
CC: Does submitting early give you guys an advantage over other ballot initiatives?
SK: We planned all along to submit an initiative in August. I was concerned about how the attorney general would respond to an initiative, and what kind of language they would use, so we submitted this version and sure enough they tried to change our "regulation" initiative to a "legalization" initiative. We know "legalization" doesn't test at all as high as "regulation", so we're going to go back and make sure they give us "regulation". We're going to change some terms in our initiative so that it's more clear-cut that it's going to be regulated by California's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, just as wine is regulated. So it was really very shrewd of us to submit early. We will file early in August which means will be done by the middle of February and the election cycle doesn't really begin until March. We want to end right there because after March the price for signatures can double and even triple.
Right now if we can complete by March we know that we'll pay $1.86 a signature, which comes to $1.4 million. We'd rather pay that than $3 or $4 each, which we could get stuck with if we started too late. At the same time we need time to wrap up our fundraising. We have a signed contract with one of the top political fundraisers on the West Coast, we've got the Libertarian party helping out, and we've got our own network of individuals who believe in our kind of politics.
CC: Have you been in touch with Richard Lee and the activists who ran the Prop 19 campaign? What are their thoughts?
SK: The old Prop 19 folks have created a new organization called the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. We've been in touch with them and we're looking forward to working with them. They have informed us that none of the funders seem interested in funding a California initiate again; they want to put their money in Colorado and Washington. They're going after the old funders that I was the first one to get when I ran the Proposition 215 campaign in 1996 and I've gone on to other funders. We have our own circle of funders and were not under the same restraints that the other reformed organizations are all under.
CC: Why is the wine regulation model the best one suited for regulating cannabis in California?
SK: First and foremost, wine is something that people understand that can be used in moderation and doesn't automatically lead to violence or impairment. People are used to the idea of a group getting together, having some wine and then going home or whatever else they're going to do. So we wanted to put it on that level because that, in fact, is how cannabis is used as well.
If you were an alien from another planet and you came to earth and you saw people doing different activities you would classify pot smoking and wine drinking as highly social interactions with a low potential for violence or injury. So we wanted to put it in that context because that's where it belongs. It doesn't need to be regulated like nuclear plutonium. Plutonium is probably easier for researchers to get than marijuana. We didn't want to put it in the category of hard booze because that would be wrongfully portraying what cannabis is all about – and it would be opening us up to attacks as another form of teenage drinking and abuse. So out of those possibilities, treating it like wine makes the most sense.
In addition to that, Judge Gray and deputy police chief Steven Downing from the LAPD told me their buddies are all telling them privately, "why don't you just regulate it like booze". They understand this. Well we compromised and said "how would you feel if we treated it like wine" and Judge Gray and chief Downing agreed. So that was the great unification model for bringing police, judges and activists together.
David Malmo-Levine has done an absolutely fantastic job for us and has published a comprehensive article comparing the California wine and cannabis industries. He has helped to educate Judge Gray and Chief Downing. Chief Downing even told him how much he had learned reading his paper. David is our official online director of communications and we all really appreciate having him on our team.
CC: Has the acceptance of the title and summary boosted the campaigns credibility? How much do public perceptions play into things at this stage and are you being taken more seriously?
SK: I probably have the best track record of anyone in town because I've only worked on the successful Prop 215 campaign. Of course, when we started that up, not only were people convinced that we wouldn't succeed, but nobody, not even the sleaziest sex tabloid, would agree to use the term medical marijuana. They wouldn't print it and wouldn't say it. Absolutely wouldn't tolerate it. So when we finally qualified for the ballot I remember getting some of the staff together and sitting down in front of the television. I remember saying "they're going to have to say it, they're going to have to say medical marijuana". We were all just kind of transfixed about the possibility they would actually say that on television. So they did Prop 213 and 214 and when they got to 215 they said "medical marijuana" – and then they said it again and again and again. They said it like it was just a regular word and our jaws were on the floor. We were just staring at the TV. Ever since, of course, it's become an everyday word. But there was that day that it went from the taboo word to the everyday word. So I've seen firsthand how people's perceptions can change once you qualify something for the ballot.
And certainly we are very grateful for all the hard work and trail-blazing that Prop 19 has done for us, because they have paved the way. When we came out, we didn't qualify for the ballot, we just qualified for the title and summary. That should be a non-event but 260 different media outlets picked it up. We were in all of the media we wanted to be and we are now being taken very seriously.
CC: How does the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative differ from others like Prop 19?
SK: Everything the reform movement is currently working on is limited to one ounce. Washington: one ounce. Colorado, recreational legalization: one ounce. California – I've seen the draft that one of the reform organizations is working on and honest to God, they are going for one ounce again. Now, one ounce in California is currently an infraction. Who the Hell is going to raise millions of dollars to turn an infraction into a non-infraction for just an ounce? We have no limit on how much pot is legal. It's all legal. There's is a 12-plant limit on growing indoors, but that is it – and no criminal penalties for cultivation, period.
CC: And dried personal amounts?
SK: We're not even getting into that. We don't want anyone coming around measuring dried amounts. It's all legal under our system -– or regulated, as we like to call it. The only way you can screw up is if you sell marijuana and don't pay the regular sales tax, like you do on anything else that you sell. Unlike Prop 19, we don't invent any new laws or any new taxes. Sales tax is already in place so there is no need to introduce a new tax.
It's light-years beyond everybody else but it really sounds reasonable when you read it.
CC: Right now, what's the best way for people to help you?
SK: Everyone wants to get an initiative petition and start signing up people right away, but we are still 60 days away from that stage. When we're ready to get signatures, we're not going to have any volunteer signatures. A very painful lesson that I learned during the Prop 215 campaign is that volunteer signature-gathering does not work. Professional signature gatherers are a must.
So what can people do? They can go to our website and they'll see we have installed the sign-up form where we can get basic information on them and then there in the system. Then they'll get the latest updates and can take part in our proactive system. What can they do once their in? Well, this is all about money – I'm sorry but that's just the reality.
What they can do is help us raise the money. Every $1.80 buys a signature – a validated signature. That's someone who doesn't just get the signature but also validates that it's a registered voter. We need 800,000 signatures, so do the math. We need to raise $1.4 million.
We've got the big money coming in later on, but right now it's really critical that the media sees how much money we can raise each day. Giving us money now in the first few weeks of this campaign is going to determine how respectful and interested the mainstream media is going to be in this campaign. If you don't send any money later but can just send money in the next week or so, you've made the biggest impact you could possibly make. The biggest bang for the buck. And what you'll be making is a contribution to history.
Read the CC article "Crystal Clear Glasses and Unbleached Rollies", a comprehensive comparison and contrasting of the California wine and California cannabis industries by activist David Malmo-Levine.
Stay tuned to Cannabis Culture for more information about the Regulate Marijuana Like Wine initiative in California.