For a long time I thought that California would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. After all, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. But legalizing recreational marijuana has been tough for California. California was the first state to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana when Proposition 19 qualified for the 2010 Election. That was the same year that Jay Smoker and I created The Weed Blog. It was a very exciting year for reform, even if the initiative didn't pass.
There were many reasons that the initative didn't pass. A big contributing factor was the year. 2010 was not a Presidential election year, which isn't enough alone to doom a marijuana initiative in my opinion, but certainly contributes, especially considering that no other state had even voted on marijuana legalization before. Colorado and Washington benefitted in 2012 from California's attempt in 2010. California laid the groudwork.
I was hoping California would be back in 2012, but there were so many different campaigns gathering signatures, and not enough backing for any particular one, that it made it nearly impossible to qualify for the ballot. Had California's multiple campaigns all gotten on the same page and pooled resources, maybe things would have been different, but there's obviously no way to know now.
California is the most populous state in the country, and getting enough signatures to qualify for Election Day is going to take deep, deep pockets. To qualify for the 2014 ballot, initatives would have had to gather 504,760 valid signatures for an initiative statute, and 807,615 for a constitutional amendment. That is not cheap. I don't think an 'all volunteer' effort is going to be able to make that happen. I would absolutely like to be wrong about that, but I just don't see it happening. A successful California signature gathering effort is going to take a lot of money, similar to what was spent in 2010 by Richard Lee and friends.
After the successful Amendment 64 campaign in Colorado, Amendment 64 campaign director Mason Tvert was on the Bill Maher show 'Real Time.' On that episode, Bill Maher asked what it would take to get Mason Tvert to do the same in California as he did in Colorado. Mason Tvert said that if Bill Maher could get enough donations, he would lead the way. Both men shook hands, which is encouraging, given how much money Bill Maher and his friends have.
So when will California legalize marijuana? I personally think that California is going to be one of many states that legalizes marijuana during the 2016 Election. It's a presidential election year, which is good. There appears to be support from national organizations and rich funders like Bill Maher for 2016. It's not going to be easy, and it's not going to be cheap, but I think at the end of the 2016 Election California will have legalized marijuana, and it will be a huge domino that increases momentum for legalization nationwide.