April 24, 2010 – SAN FRANCISCO — As a longtime Democratic consultant, Chris Lehane has worked for presidents and managed scandals. But his current gig — as a strategist for the campaign to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in California — is the one that has really caught the attention of his colleagues.
“I’ve got a lot of people calling looking for business on this one,” Mr. Lehane said.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. But the new ballot measure would allow anyone over 21 to buy, possess, use or cultivate marijuana. It would bar personal possession of more than one ounce as well as smoking the drug in public or around minors.
Supporters have encouraged legalization as a potential boon for sales tax revenue — up to $1.4 billion annually, according to some estimates — in budget-crunched California. But the measure is expected to be strongly opposed by law enforcement, which says it would actually end up costing the state in increased public health and safety expenses.
“It’s fraudulent,” said John Lovell, a Sacramento lobbyist who represents the state groups for police chiefs and narcotics officers.
While the state’s Republican Party has come out against the measure, Mr. Lehane says legalization is a bipartisan issue, attracting liberals and libertarians alike. Several polls have also shown a slim majority of Californians favoring legalization. “They accept the premise that it is de facto legal anyway,” Mr. Lehane said. “And that the current system is not working.”
The X-factor in the campaign may be the current proprietors of medical marijuana facilities, who have built a $1 billion industry — and a kind of quasi-legal monopoly — in the state.
Kevin Reed, the president of the Green Cross, a cannabis delivery service based in San Francisco, admitted last week to be conflicted on the issue, writing that “if the legalization-for-all social experiment fails, it could bring the medical cannabis movement down with it.”
Mr. Lehane said the campaign would not concern medical marijuana — which a majority of Americans approve of, according to a recent Associated Press/CNBC poll — but “whether government’s failed prohibition approach should be replaced with a system that will better control it and collect revenue from it.”
“The issue is not ‘if’ but merely ‘when,’ ” Mr. Lehane said.
Like all California races, the marijuana campaign is expected to be expensive. Proponents want to raise at least $10 million, and had raised about $1.3 million by the end of 2009, much of it donated by Richard Lee, a co-sponsor of the measure who runs a trade school devoted to the drug in Oakland.
Mr. Lovell, meanwhile, does not expect to need as much money. “They’ll outspend us five or six times to one,” he said. “But all we need to do is raise enough money to get our message out. And if we do that, we will win.” By JESSE McKINLEY. Source.