It looks like Californians will have to take a pass on legalizing marijuana until at least 2016.
The biggest player in the effort to make weed legal this year is bowing out, saying the funding for a major ballot campaign just isn’t there. That leaves two or three smaller initiatives with little chance of becoming law.
The Drug Policy Alliance, a national lobbying group, was considered the 800-pound gorilla in the fight to legalize California in 2014. The organization was recently cleared to begin gathering the 500,000-plus signatures needed to get its proposal on the ballot.
But now the alliance and its partners say they’re not seeing the kind of funding they need to get a major initiative on the ballot and past voters in November. Volunteers are collecting signatures at a fast clip, but that’s not enough, advocates said.
Graham Boyd, attorney for the late pot philanthropist Peter Lewis and a leading legalization proponent, said the decision was “very close” and “came down to the wire.”
“We see this as a trial run or a dress rehearsal for 2016,” Boyd said.
The initiative proposed by the Drug Policy Alliance was cleared for signature-gathering Feb. 3, along with a proposal by Americans for Policy Reform, a much smaller organization based in California.
Of the various initiatives in the works, it was the most conservative – and also the most likely to win over voters. Were it to become law, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, buy and consume less than an ounce of weed. They could also grow up to six plants at home. The initiative also would have imposed a 25 percent tax on the drug.
But the deadline for handing in signatures was just a few months away, and Boyd and other backers of the plan said they needed more time. They want to make their case to elected leaders, public health officials and law enforcement. And they said they feel they need at least $10 million – an amount they can’t meet.
“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 Drug Policy Alliance isn’t the only big player waiting until 2016. The ACLU, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a number of other high-profile supporters of legalization have begged off until then, saying they want more time to study the issue and raise money.
In the meantime, any of the three remaining petitions could make it to the ballot. Backers of two of those proposals, including Americans for Policy Reform, are gathering signatures while the third hasn’t yet been cleared.
But none of these groups has major funding, and the two proposals currently circulating petitions place little or no limit on possession and cultivation, a fact that likely wouldn’t appeal to the centrist voters who are key to success.
Polling by the Drug Policy Alliance and its partners showed increasing public majority support for legalization, enough that it might have passed this year. But after Lewis died in November, finances dried up and the likelihood of success dimmed.