The outlook for marijuana reform is stronger in California, where two competing groups have joined to get legalization on the ballot in 2016.
Until December, two main groups were vying to put their initiatives on the ballot. Several other organizations and activists are trying on their own, but their hopes are long. The Coalition for Policy Reform was behind one of the two, while Internet billionaire Sean Parker is behind the other.
Coalition board members announced in early December that they would withdraw their petition and instead put their support behind Parker and his legalization plan. Parker, the onetime president of Facebook Inc., had widely been viewed as the leading contender, so the announcement came as little surprise.
Parker drawing support from big players
Parker’s plan is backed by several other major players in the reform movement, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. It was given better odds than the Coalition proposal, but Coalition board members held out until Parker agreed to add measures protecting children, small businesses, and employees.
The move comes amid persistent concerns that infighting could again doom reform in California. The state’s cannabis lobby is notoriously fractured, a fact that helped defeat two previous legalization attempts, in 2010 and 2014. Last year the disagreement was so great no initiative even made the ballot.
Unrealistic proposals unlikely to succeed
The announcement doesn’t mean Parker won’t face competition. But most of the other groups trying to enact legalization are small, local outfits run by amateur activists with a profoundly libertarian bent. None of these initiatives has been given good odds, as their proposals are often unrealistic and they have only limited access to money.
Parker, on the other hand, has a bottomless well of personal wealth to play with. But he may not need it, since his campaign is now likely to draw most of the big-name fundraisers, such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance.
California is viewed by many observers as the next big prize in the push for legalization. More people live there than in any other state, and if cannabis goes legal, the drug will be easily available up and down the entire Pacific Coast, from Canada to Mexico.
Marijuana is currently legal in four states, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington. It is also permitted for recreational use in Washington, D.C., but there is no legal industry there to provide the drug as of yet.
Who will legalize next?
Almost a dozen states, including California, are on the list of places likely to vote on legalization over the next few years. The others include Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona, where voters could decide the matter at the polls as early as next year.
Parker and his team changed their initiative to satisfy the Coalition’s concerns, filing several amendments with state officials in early December. Those alterations would give municipalities more power to decide where pot shops can be located, tighten rules against selling to children, ban child-oriented advertising, place warning labels on all THC products, and mandate that workplaces meet safety and labor law standards.
The plan would tax marijuana at the levels of both cultivation and sale, and analysts say it could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for California and its public projects. The state is already an ideal location for legal cannabis, with a well-used medical marijuana program and a strong community of farmers.