Though California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana with the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, voters have had a harder time agreeing on whether recreational use of the drug should be allowed. In 2010, such a proposition was narrowly defeated at the polls, and in 2012 — when voters in Colorado and Washington legalized it — none of the six separate measures proposed by various factions of the Golden State’s marijuana movement could gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
California’s next chance will be November 2014, and the only proposed legislation currently moving toward that ballot is the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, which was approved for signature gathering by Sacramento in late September. Other initiatives could feasibly come out of the woodwork in the weeks to come — there were rumors of some medical cannabis collective owners working on something — but the CCHI is the only one filed in time to enjoy the full 150 days allowed to collect the nearly 505,000 signatures required by the February 24 deadline.
One of the bill’s visionaries is Berton “Buddy” Duzy, a Simi Valley contractor who has been involved with marijuana reform his entire adult life, due in large part to his longtime friendship with famed marijuana activist and author Jack Herer, who passed away in 2010. “I chose to carry on the mission,” said Duzy, who spoke about his legislation at length with The Santa Barbara Independent last week. What follows is an edited version of the conversation.
Why didn’t the legislation in 2010 pass?
It didn’t pass because it was very poorly written and put together really quickly without much thought. What they ended up doing was allowing each city and county to allow for the sale of marijuana, and if you look at California politically in terms of the red-blue map, most counties are red, and most likely they wouldn’t have allowed it. That would have forced sales into Bay Area counties and Los Angeles. The rest of California would have been forced into a quasi-black market, and have to drive to Oakland to buy as much pot as they could. Even some of the activists were opposed to that initiative because it was so poorly done.
Did the recent comments from the Obama Administration about leaving alone the states who legalize marijuana give you any extra hope?
It’s not the first time that the federal government said they were gonna leave pot alone. They said they were gonna leave medical patients alone too when Obama was first elected, but they’ve been very aggressive with their enforcement. So I’m not 100 percent on board. I’ll believe it when I see it.
Hemp seems to be as much a part of your bill as recreational marijuana, right?
Industrial hemp is the central part of our bill. We believe that we should have been using hemp for paper a long time ago instead of cutting down all the trees, which is what we have been doing for the last 60 years. That’s my passion, that’s my legal focus.
So it legalizes hemp for farming, and it also uses an excise tax we collect from recreational pot sales to fund a startup of these industries, so these farmers can have a place to sell their crops. We intend to make California the first major state in the union to create a domestic infrastructure for the utilization of industrial hemp.
And we do deal with the recreational and medical side of cannabis too. It’s a comprehensive piece of legislation.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that paved the way for legaliztion of hemp once the feds allow it. How does that affect your bill?
The hemp bill authorizes a lot of the hemp farmers to prepare for the legalization of hemp, which is what our initiative will do. So it’s very beneficial to both the farmers and to us. It gives them a head start.
How does your initiative deal with driving while stoned?
Ours has a pretty clearly defined DUI policy. What we did was eliminate the testing for metabolized THC, the type of testing where you can be dirty two months later. Instead, there is a test that is available for active THC, which means you actually smoked some pot and are actually high.
We also demand that the state adopt existing scientifically-based performance standards, or that they can do their own scientifically-based performance standards. That’s the same thing they do with alcohol. They test drivers at certain levels, and find the level where impairment exists.
Do you expect any opposition from the cannabis collective side? In 2010, there was a good deal of opposition from within the movement itself, since there is so much money to be made now.
We have a lot of collectives that work with us. They’re willing, and it really isn’t gonna hurt them. It will benefit the collectives because it takes local governments off their backs, and it eliminates the need to collect tax from medical pot. It does a lot to help them, and we expect them to be on board.
So what are the chances it will pass in 2014?
I think the chances are really good. The volunteers are all very excited and motivated, so we’re expecting it to pass.
To learn more about the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative or volunteer to help get signatures, see cchi2014.org.