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Newsom: Marijuana Legalization Could Still Fail

Legal marijuana is destined to appear on California’s statewide ballot in November, but big-name supporters of the proposal warn it’s still far from a sure thing.

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told a meeting of legalization advocates in June. “Any of you think this is done in California, you couldn’t be more wrong.”

State elections officials announced in June that they had approved the initiative for the Nov. 8 ballot after checking a random sample of 600,000 voter signatures submitted by supporters. Enough of the signatures were valid to put the question before voters, according to the office of California Secretary of State Kamala Harris.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D)
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom

“We’ve never had so much at stake in one election night,” Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said at the group’s annual convention June 28. “If we don’t win California and at least half of the other states in play right now, the public narrative around our industry will dramatically change for the worse and for quite some time, setting us back a decade or more.”

California given best odds of legalization

Successful legalization votes are possible in at least eight other states this year, including Nevada, Arizona, Maine, and Massachusetts. The California initiative is generally given the best odds of passing, though success is likely elsewhere.

Still, Newsom, Smith, and their fellow reform advocates have a valid point: A lack of vigilance by legalization supporters could have devastating effects in the fall election. Victory in all nine states would leave one in four Americans living in a place that allows legal adult use of marijuana for recreation, while three in four would live in states where medical use is legal.

“Congress simply cannot ignore numbers at this scale,” Smith said.

More than $3 million raised for AUMA

Legalization supporters have raised more than $3 million for the November election, while opponents have raised just $125,000, Newsom noted, but rumors persist that a big-wallet donor will soon appear for the opposition. The group behind the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which would legalize the drug for any adult use, is led by tech billionaire Sean Parker, who has given more than $1 million, but Newsom said the cause would need more backers – and more money – than that.

Sean Parker AUMA
Sean Parker has donated $1 million to the AUMA.

“Don’t think you’ve got one person funding this,” Newsom said. “Sean’s got a lot of money, there’s no doubt about that, but he’s got a budget, too. He’s not going to fund the whole thing. There’s a lot of mythology around that. We need your help.”

Newsom pointed out that he is still the only statewide elected official to support legalization, even though they’re all Democrats.

“Heck, I was deeply involved in something not that long ago called gay marriage,” Newsom told the cannabis industry gathering. “And remember, they passed Proposition 8 (which banned same sex-marriage) in California not that long ago.”

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