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Legal Weed in California is "Dead as a Doornail" for 2014

Legal Weed in California is "Dead as a Doornail" for 2014
Timothy Norris for LA Weekly

Efforts to follow Colorado's lead and legalize recreational marijuana are "dead as a doornail" for California in 2014, after the national Drug Policy Alliance withdrew a proposed initiative that would regulate the drug statewide, says longtime statewide political consultant Steve Maviglio.

After that announcement, longtime cannabis activist Ed Rosenthal, who was trying to counter the alliance with his own initiative, also exited the race, the Weekly has learned. That leaves just two initiatives trying to make it on statewide ballots: the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act, or MCLR, and the much more grassroots California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, or CCHI. 

Even San Jose dispensary operator Dave Hodges, who's behind the MCLR, the better-funded of the two remaining initiatives, concedes that things don't look good for pot legalization in 2014. "It's a little bit of a long shot," he admits, "but we're trying to make it happen."

Conventional wisdom was that the the Drug Policy Alliance put a horse in California's 2014 race to hedge its bets in case any of the other initiatives had a chance. The alliance appeared to have wanted to ward off more loosely written initiatives.

Most of the efforts sought to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Legalization proponents had hoped that coast-to-coast enthusiasm and positive polling following legalization in Colorado and Washington would buoy their efforts.

Stephen Gutwillig, the Drug Policy Alliance's deputy executive director for programs, tells us that groundswell will likely continue in 2016, even if 2014 is not looking so good:

Look for legalization campaigns in Alaska and Oregon this cycle as well as a medical marijuana ballot initiative in Florida. That is plenty to keep the momentum going.

Billionaire activist George Soros is an alliance supporter who might help in 2016, Gutwillig acknowledges. "It's possible to do this at this point with or without him because there's now a large enough base of support," he says.

It takes about $3 million to get an an initiative on the California ballot these days, says Maviglio, with most of that money going to professional signature gatherers. For marijuana, he told us, "the smart money says 'Game over.'"

It would take another $7 million or so in advertising and organizing cash for the road trip to November even after that, he says, because "a yes campaign is far more difficult than a no campaign."

The remaining initiatives have nowhere near that. The one with the best shot at winning now, the MCLR, has received a pledge of $500,000, Hodges says:

At this point we're trying to raise $3 million to get on the ballot. We're actually really, really encouraged now that DPA is dropping out. Ed [Rosenthal] is dropping out. CCHI is not even a viable option at this point. MCLR is the only the viable option for getting it done. That's a daunting goal if you're looking at $25 donations. But it only takes one person who believes in this to write a few-million-dollar check and we've got this done.
Legal Weed in California is "Dead as a Doornail" for 2014
Timothy Norris for LA Weekly

Meanwhile, the CCHI's Buddy Duzy told us that he thinks the initiative he represents still has a shot this year, even though it's come up short for signatures and had to submit its request to circulate petitions anew.

"Our volunteer drive came up short," he said, "and we refiled."

Duzy said CCHI hopes to raise $800,000, but that it's basically starting from scratch. Signatures it already gathered won't be eligible once it gets new circulation language approved by state officials in a few weeks.

That means the CCHI won't be able to start gathering signatures again until March, with an April 18 deadline to turn in at least 560,000 or so valid voter endorsements looming.

As for Rosenthal, the guy behind what had been the fourth option for marijuana legalization in California, he says that the Drug Policy Alliance's withdrawal led to him dropping out, too.

He had been concerned that the Alliance proposal would create California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control-like "police" regulation of cannabis sales, he told us. But now that's a moot point.

And with that, Rosenthal says, California recreational legalization in 2014 ...

... is over. Neither initiative left [the MCLR or the CCHI] has either the money or the volunteers to get signatures. So it's over. It's okay though. In 2016 you have a stronger demographic. You get a more liberal electorate in presidential years. I'm looking forward to legalization in California.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews .


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