Marijuana legalization has been on a roll in recent years, but experts warned in April that the movement could be setting itself up for a disastrous November.
The Drug Policy Alliance said legalization proponents in at least nine states are “dangerously over-extended,” adding that there are too few advocates stretched too thin with too little money and too little time. Efforts in California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, Missouri, and Ohio are at risk of failing, said Ellen Flenniken of the alliance.
“This is what keeps me up at night,” Flenniken said. A series of defeats in these states “could debilitate us for years,” she said in an April webinar sponsored by a marijuana tech company.
California holds the strongest chance of making the ballot box
Flenniken said the campaign in California looks set to gather enough voter signatures to make the ballot in November. But advocates behind the proposal are saving money for advertising and other costs during the run-up to the election, a choice that is impeding the effort to collect signatures.
Backers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, spearheaded by tech billionaire Sean Parker, have given $3 million to the cause, while it could cost $10 million to succeed in November – assuming there is no major opposition. Costs could rise substantially if there is.
Even as proponents in the Golden State contribute, the Drug Policy Alliance said, national groups have donated just $25,000. The industry pulled down more than $1 billion in sales last year.
Pivotal to the reform movement
“California is pivotal,” Flenniken said. “A win in California would provide political cover to demand the attention of the new president and Congress and bolster efforts around federal legislation to continue rolling back prohibition.”
The nation is “addicted to mass incarceration,” she said, and legalization could make a big dent in that problem. But that might not happen if the industry doesn’t put its back into the California legalization drive.
In neighboring Nevada, the alliance is concerned about the political clout of Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire resident who supports conservative causes and opposes legalization. Advocates can’t match that kind of spending, Flenniken said.
“If he was wants to defeat the measure, he has unlimited funding to do so,” she said. “Time will tell.”
Florida MMJ vote fell short in 2014
Adelson is also dangerous in Florida, where he helped kill a medical marijuana initiative in 2014, Flenniken said. That proposal won 57 percent of the vote, but at least 60 percent was required for it to pass.
“We really, really hope he will abstain this cycle,” she said.
In Arizona, meanwhile, voter support is “decent,” but advocates have little money to spend, Flenniken said. There, opponent Ken Kendrick, owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, is already spending big money against legalization.
The Drug Policy Alliance estimates it could cost more than $50 million to successfully push various initiatives to legalize marijuana this year. Even if the alliance emptied its coffers, Flenniken said, “we’re not even halfway to the most conservative efforts.”