May 1, 2012

Marijuana Reform Initiatives Need To Start Early To Succeed

May 1, 2012
signature gathering marijuana reform initiative

signature gathering marijuana reform initiativeAn Early Start Is A Key Ingredient To A Winning Marijuana Initiative Campaign

There have been reports across the nation of marijuana reform initiatives that are not going to be able to get enough signatures in time to make the 2012 ballot. It happens every election cycle. There are still many marijuana reform initiatives that are gathering signatures, and I applaud their efforts. For instance Oregon’s I-24 campaign is well within striking distance to make the ballot. There’s a common factor for many of the marijuana reform initiatives that won’t make the ballot in 2012 – they started to late.

I am from Oregon, and I have a degree in public policy, so I am familiar with the initiative process. ‘The Oregon system,’ as it is referred to in political science textbooks, is a complex process. Running a successful statewide initiative campaign takes a larger coalition than a campaign for a candidate. It takes hundreds of signature gatherers to get enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. A lot of people don’t grasp the concept of ‘valid signatures.’ Most campaigns will turn in signatures, just to find out that 30-50% of them are invalid for various reasons.

Before marijuana reform initiative campaigns think of Election Day, they need to compile a small army of signature gatherers, which takes time. Another way to get signatures is to partner with large organizations that can get the signatures of their members. That also takes time. The sooner campaigns start the process of networking, the better the chances they have of getting ballot access.

I see a lot of campaigns that draft language for an initiative in haste and then try to run a campaign, even though the process is botched since jump street. Successful campaigns take a long time to poll and craft their title and language so that when their campaign picks up steam, swing voters will want to actually support it. It pains me when I see a campaign actually getting some traction with their local media, just to have voters rip up the initiative because it’s obvious the time and attention wasn’t paid to the language. Marijuana reform initiatives need to start early so they can take the time to see what message is going to resonate with voters.

I see a lot of campaigns start late in the process, thinking that if they can just raise some noise in the media, some billionaire will come in and save the day. That never happens. Big funders of marijuana reform initiatives only pour money into campaigns that have a solid foundation very early in the process. With that being said, many campaigns that get large funding are on their second or third election cycle. So a late campaign is beneficial in that regard, but make sure to temper expectations for the current election cycle.

Another thing that I point out to campaign directors all the time is that even if the campaign received a large infusion of donations late in the election cycle, they wouldn’t be able to gather enough signatures in the amount of time they need to. It’s been my experience in Oregon that hundreds of signature gatherers can only gather 10-20k signatures a week. Signature gathering takes time, no matter how much money you have.

Initiative campaigns aren’t like candidates. A candidate can go out and do a speech or debate on behalf of themselves. Everywhere they go they can shake hands and spread the message. Candidates are a walking, talking advertisement for their campaign. Initiatives can’t speak for themselves. It takes a lot of people talking about an initiative in order to get the word out, and just as it does in the ‘telephone game,’ the message morphs the farther it gets away from the source. There’s countless reasons that it’s easier to convince someone to vote for a person than it is to convince someone to vote for written text.

Even if campaigns start early, it doesn’t guarantee success. However, starting late is almost a guaranteed ingredient for failure. I hope campaigns aren’t taking this as a reason to give up this year. That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is to keep networking in 2012 to increase the chances of success in 2014. If your campaign failed to make the ballot, start today for 2014. If you are running a campaign and you won’t make the deadline, don’t be discourage, be encouraged. Still take donations. Still get contact information from supporters. Still raise some noise in the media. Start today.

If you need help getting plugged into a campaign in your state, or an organization, or want advice about how to get started, feel free to e-mail me: [email protected]. I’m proud to say that several states will be voting on marijuana reform this Fall. For the states that aren’t, let’s get started today for 2014!


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