Millions of weed aficionados will likely face the consequences of ongoing prohibition of marijuana in California through at least 2016. There are just 66 days left to turn in the 800,000 signatures necessary for a legalization petition to qualify for the November 4 ballot, and collecting those signatures requires several million dollars that no group has been willing to commit this year.
The four groups proposing pot legalization in 2014 woefully lag behind deadlines suggested by the state for ensuring a successful initiative. The groups are also at each other's throats over the dirty details of full legalization. This infighting, coupled with California's soft 56 percent support for ending the weed war, appears to be scaring away big donors needed to legalize marijuana this fall.
Look to history as a guide. Since California created the ballot initiative process in 1911, just 7 percent of all ballot measures circulated for signatures have passed. And batting way below that average of .070 is weed legalization. Reform groups have floated about forty weed measures since the Seventies, and only one has passed: Proposition 215 in 1996.
That's because it's laughably easy to circulate an initiative petition, but extremely difficult to gather enough valid signatures to make the ballot and then garner a 50-percent-plus-one majority on Election Day.
Any California adult can fill out the paperwork and get the state Attorney General to write a "title and summary," which activists use when they circulate their petition. Problem is, you need valid signatures totaling 5 percent of the votes in the prior governor's race. That's 504,760 valid signatures for would-be weed law reformers. And since nearly half of the signatures you get are going to come from "Wiz Khalifa at 420 Stone St., Weed, CA, 94420" you really have to get around 800,000 raw signatures.
According to the state elections website, reform groups have until April 18 to file their raw signatures with each county they collected them in. That leaves about two months between now and then to gather 800,000 signatures. And as of press time, none of the groups was remotely close to this total.
The front-runner in this debacle is the Drug Policy Alliance, which has its title and summary from the AG, and is conducting polls to see if it's initiative will pass by a wide enough margin. DPA California coordinator Amanda Reiman said the deep-pocketed group, which helped bankroll legalization in Washington and Colorado, will make a funding decision by Valentine's Day.
Pot legalization polls at about 56 percent in California, but the exact flavor of legalization has divided the state. Issues like local bans, taxes, regulations, and drug war prisoners have split reformers into several camps.
"It's anarchy," said Michael Jolson, who is running one of the long-shot campaigns. "Our movement is so socially deformed."
The DPA's measure would be lucky to poll at 52 percent, because some pot law reformers don't like its proposed one-ounce limit on personal possession of marijuana or its prohibition on growing more than six plants for personal use — let alone its proposed 25 percent tax on retail sales of cannabis. DPA would then have to take that 52 percent and defend it for six months against the full force of the Drug War establishment — which knows that when California goes, the war is over. And DPA would have to street-fight at least four other pro-marijuana groups who are in open revolt against the DPA measure.
"DPA has gotten some of the worst feedback from everybody in the community," said San Jose pot club operator Dave Hodges, who directs a competing group. "More than likely if they move forward with it you'll see a repeat of Prop 19 and the industry itself will kill that initiative," he said of the failed 2010 statewide legalization measure.
That means big donors will be deciding this week about whether to pony up about $10 million for a coin toss at best — and betting on coin flips is not how rich people get rich in the first place.
Behind the DPA is a San Jose-based group calling itself the MCLR. The group began collecting signatures at the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino on Saturday. MCLR co-founder Hodges agrees the 2014 drive is coming down to the last minute, but he said that Prop 19 got a half-million signatures in three weeks.
"The only long-shot is the money," he said. The MCLR is looking for cash donations to help pay for collecting signatures. "We have very little coming in."
Behind the MCLR is a group based out of Sacramento calling itself the CCHI. It was the first to file back in August of 2013, and having used an all-volunteer team, will fail to qualify for the ballot by its 150-day deadline this month. As a result, CCHI has filed paperwork to restart the signature-gathering clock for March 12, meaning it'll have just over a month to re-gather signatures. Representatives have said they're hoping to raise $800,000 to pay for signature-gathering, but so far have failed to do so.
The last initiative to enter the race comes from Oakland author and celebrity pot cultivation instructor Ed Rosenthal, who is dissatisfied with the other three initiatives. Rosenthal's group could begin gathering signatures as late as March 13, and would need to find $3.2 million to quickly amass the names, which will cost about $3 to$4 per signature.
The fat lady has not sung on the 2014 legalization season, but she is all warmed up and waiting for her cue.