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Labor assisting California marijuana legalization effort

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POSTED May 3, 2015 7:50 p.m.

SACRAMENTO . (AP) — Organized labor is assisting efforts to frame a California ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana use in the state, sensing an opportunity to expand its presence in the workplace.

The United Food and Commercial Workers’ Western States Council commissioned a series of focus groups, where likely voters across the state filed into rooms with one-way mirrors to share opinions. The research is aimed at shaping a legalization initiative for the 2016 ballot.

The labor council, an umbrella group for 160,000 grocery and other workers across the state, already has a foothold in the marijuana industry, representing about 1,000 workers in medical cannabis jobs. Jim Araby, its executive director, said it wants to be involved early in the ballot effort and ensure that a proposal contains strong labor protections.

“If you look at the legalization efforts in other parts of the country, questions about creating real training standards for the workforce weren’t a piece of the conversation and dialogue,” Araby said.

California voters, which made the state the first in that nation to decriminalize marijuana use for medical purposes, rejected a broader legalization measure in 2010, a failure that analysts attributed to overreaching language. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized the drug in recent years.

A recent statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California found that likely voter support for legalizing recreational marijuana use has grown to 55 percent, up six points since 2010.

Proponents of successful ballot measures must get everything right: from the timing, concept and policy details to the messages, messengers and money, said Ned Wigglesworth, an initiative strategist and partner at Redwood Pacific Public Affairs.

“If it comes off as a sensible, well-considered change in drug policy supported by credible groups, they’ve got a shot,” he said. “If it comes off as a scheme cooked up by potheads, voters will treat it accordingly.”

The union-commissioned surveys, held in February by David Binder Research, asked 48 likely voters were where they stood on the issue. Participants who were paid about $75 each were provided sample ballots, which varied but were consistent in allowing production, processing, delivery, possession and sale of marijuana to adults.

Araby said the proposal should not “try to solve every little problem and overcomplicate” things for voters. He envisions enlisting thousands of campaigners from organized labor who could advertise the effort, hold phone banks and invest in television ads.

“The biggest challenge now,” Araby said, “is to make sure the groups that have the resources to put something on the ballot and pass it all work together.”

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