.Assemblymember Bill Quirk: ‘I am fully in support of legalization’

Assemblymember Bill Quirk made for a surprising and auspicious guest Friday at the Jack London Square Waterfront Hotel.

Inside a banquet room had gathered about one hundred or so folks who comprised the core of California marijuana legalizers, all strategizing about a 2016 initiative to legalize cannabis — a topic once dubbed “radioactive” to lawmakers.

The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform’s ‘Post Mortem Seminar: 2014 Legalization Elections’ included a keynote by veteran campaign manager Bill Zimmerman — coverage of which runs in this week’s print and online editions of Legalization Nation.

We wanted to give Hayward’s Assemblymember Quirk — a former NASA climate change scientist with a PhD in astrophysics — his own space for a candid Q&A. The second-year Democrat representing the 20th District, comprising the southern part of the East Bay, chatted with us about full legalization, and his pessimism for something far less ambitious — medical marijuana regulations — in the California Legislature this year.

[jump] Legalization Nation: Assemblymember Quirk, what message did you hope to carry to this group today?

Assemblymember Quirk: I came here just to listen, and I am fully in support of legalization.

Legalization Nation: What have you heard today that stands out in your mind?

Assemblymember Quirk: What we’ve got to do when we put our initiative together is learn from Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Washington DC’s campaigns just to understand what they did right so they got the votes. Then what their current experience is, what’s working, what’s not working. I’m just offering myself in any way I can to help bring people together and get a good initiative.

I believe I’ll be the person doing the hearing they’ll ask for when 25 percent of votes are collected, but it has to be worked out.

Legalization Nation: What salient issues have emerged in other states’ experiences?

Quirk: One thing we have to be more careful of is edibles. Making sure we know exactly what the dose is. Unlike smoking, it doesn’t hit you right away. It’s much harder to know when you’ve taken a reasonable dose or not. I think we have to be very careful about that.

They’re talking about having clear standards for knowing what’s in it, clear packaging, childproof packaging, etc. I think we have to be very careful about that.

Beyond that, what amount would we allow people to possess legally? There’s just a lot of issues.

One theme that’s emerged today is, ‘there’s what we’d like, there’s what will pass, and how do we get it together?’ And finally there’s the question of, ‘How do you run the campaign?’

I think there’s some very sophisticated people in that room. [CCPR chair] Dale Sky Jones, [Drug Policy Alliance policy director] Tamar Todd and others getting involved. I think they will put together a good initiative and if there’s any way I can help, I will.

LN: Any predictions for 2016?

Quirk: Nothing is ever sure.

LN: Fifty-fifty? Seventy-thirty? It seems like a pretty big political lift.

Quirk: When I see the initiative I’ll have a better idea. I think this group will probably put something together that polls in the high 50s to 60 and at that point then we’re doing fine. If that’s the initiative they put together, as long as we’re getting good turnout, as long as there’s a good campaign, and we can raise money for the campaign —. But it’s just way too early to know any of those things.

They have to write a good initiative that polls well. They have to … get the endorsement of the Democratic Party and newspapers, etc. If all those things happen, it’ll pass, but I have no idea wether all those things are going to happen.

LN: Where is the Assembly? Can’t they meet voters halfway?

Quirk: No. The Assembly is very conservative, at least on this issue. I’d love to think we could pass it as legislation. I’d love to see that happen. It would be better, because then you could adjust as you see what’s happening.
Ammiano’s bill to regulate medical marijuana got about 25 — not anywhere near 41 votes. That was just to regulate medical marijuana. The [California State] Sheriffs’ [Association] opposed it, and the [California] Police Chiefs [Association]. I think they were reckless. We need good legislation, that was good legislation. As soon as they opposed it, we just lost a lot of people in the Assembly, including a lot of so-called ‘progressive democrats’.

They have to —.

People are going to have to —.

How can I say it?

I would very much like it if the members of the Assembly would consider this and vote for it. It would be great, but I’m not optimistic.

LN: Not even medical marijuana regulations this year?

Quirk: We’ll see. They’re trying to work out another compromise led by Reps. Bonta and Reggie-Sawyer. We’ll see what they come up with.

The [failed 2014] Correa bill [to regulate medical marijuana] had several poison pills in it. One of them was only your own physician could prescribe medical marijuana and most physicians don’t have that skill and are worried about losing their licenses if they do it, so that was one.

And the other was that it demanded that it be the health department inside the Department of Consumer Affairs that do the regulations, and that was a poison pill. [DCA] had no desire to do it. [The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] ABC is the only institution that can do it.

So it had several poison pills that were designed to make sure that basically you would cut out medical marijuana. It was basically an anti-medical marijuana bill. That passed the Senate.

Well [sigh] you know what happened.

LN: The Correa bill expired in the Assembly.

Quirk: And then we could not get the pro-medical marijuana bill — which had very strict regulations — out of the Assembly, because the Sheriffs and the Police Chiefs didn’t like it.

So I’m not optimistic, but we’ll see what happens. I’m hoping a compromise can be reached.


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