Federal prosecutors announced in October their intention to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries that operate legally in states like California. The crackdowns may appear as an effort to dismantle the marijuana industry and halt movements for legalization, but pro-pot activists have turned it into an opportunity to make their voices heard.
In California, the possession of more than 28 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor with fines up to $500. No jail time is involved in possessing quantities for personal consumption.
The crackdowns are “driving volunteers and money to us,” said Steve Kubby, chief officer for the California-based Regulate Marijuana Like Wine campaign.
The Like Wine campaign started collecting signatures in California in November. It is now affiliated with Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and gained the endorsement of legalization activists like Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray.
Kubby said the new campaign has received over $200,000 in contributions to help pay for petitions. The goal of the Like Wine campaign is to collect enough signatures for an initiative to regulate marijuana use on the 2012 November ballot.
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that people using medical marijuana in states that allowed it would not be singled out, but last month federal prosecutors threatened to shut down dispensaries.
“The federal government has been putting a lot of pressure on states to get rid of the laws,” said Philippe Andrade, political science professor at Santa Ana College. California was the first state to legalize medicinal use in 1996. Since then, 16 states have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana, including Alaska, Arizona, and also Washington D.C.
The Like Wine campaign began after the defeat of Proposition 19 last year, which would have allowed personal use and taxation of marijuana in California.
National acceptance of marijuana as a legal substance appears to be on the rise. An October Gallup Poll showed 46 percent of Americans are in favor of legalization. This past July, Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul introduced a bill to end marijuana prohibition, which was first federally criminalized in the 1930s.