By Phillip Smith
The Los Angeles Times reported today that a deep-pocketed marijuana reform coalition including the Drug Policy Alliance had decided not to move forward this year with an initiative to legalize the weed in the Golden State. Instead, the coalition will aim at 2016.
That means marijuana legalization will most likely not be on the ballot in California this year. Three other legalization initiatives have been filed, but two of them appear to lack the funds to complete expensive signature gathering efforts -- 504,000 signatures are needed by April 18 -- and the third has yet to be cleared for circulation.
The coalition, which is supported by billionaire financier George Soros, and which included the late Progressive Insurance founder Peter Lewis, had consistently argued that 2016 was more doable than this year, but filed the Control, Regulate and Tax Marijuana Act late last year after polling numbers suggested victory was within reach.
At the time, spokesmen said they would make a decision on whether to move forward or not around the beginning of February. Now, that decision has been made.
The decision to wait was a "very close" call and "one that came down to the wire," Graham Boyd, counsel to Lewis, told The Times. "We see this as a trial run or dress rehearsal for 2016," he said.
Boyd and DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann told The Times in interviews Monday that they wanted more time to do outreach with elected officials, law enforcement, and public health leaders, an approach they said worked in Washington state. They also said money was an issue, and that the death of Peter Lewis had an impact.
"We believe the best way to go forward with any state ballot initiative is to have a strong funding base in place before launching the campaign," Boyd said. "It is certainly true that Peter Lewis' death made that a much more difficult process to do in the time we had."
The initiatives that in the signature-gathering phase are the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014, sponsored by Americans for Policy Reform, and the Hererite California Cannabis Hemp Initiative 2014. A legalization initiative sponsored by "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, the Cannabis Policy Reform Act of 2014, is still awaiting approval at the attorney general's office.
With the prospects slim for any of those initiatives making the ballot this year, at this point, Alaska is the only state that will definitely vote on a marijuana legalization initiative this year. Oregon is another likely contender, but it remains to be seen whether either of the two initiatives filed there will make the ballot.