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Legalization Looks Increasingly Likely

Activists are working to make marijuana legal in the November statewide election, and the odds are increasingly good they will succeed, according to recent media reports.

california medical marijuanaSeveral groups are pushing petitions to legalize the drug, and if any make the ballot, they stand a good chance of passing. One effort, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, has already pulled in more than $2 million in donations.

And we’re still early in the process. The campaign is led by tech billionaire Sean Parker, though he is not the official petitioner. Parker alone has donated $1 million and is expected to give much more.

Strong majority support for legalization

A recent poll showed roughly 60 percent of California voters support legalization, the strongest backing yet. The state is the most populous in the nation, so a victory on Nov. 8 would have a massive impact from coast to coast.

“We believe that AUMA has a very strong chance of passing in 2016,” said Chris Beals, chief strategy officer for Weedmaps, a website that has given $500,000 to the effort. “While there is still much work to be done to further educate voters on the issue, support for ending prohibition is strong in California.”

Two potential problems still stand in the way, according to the Orange County Register: organized opposition and infighting among activists. Neither is likely to stop legalization, but they could prove problematic.

Concerns over possibility of ‘Big Weed’

The most prominent opponents of marijuana reform are groups that represent police and municipal governments, many of which have banned all cannabis businesses within the last few years. Opposition arose in part because of concerns Parker’s proposal would encourage big corporations to become involved in the cannabis industry.

There is a deadline of April 26 by which Parker and his group must collect nearly 400,000 signatures. If they succeed, the initiative will appear on the ballot. As the best-funded proposal, the AUMA stands the best chance of pulling this off.

But smaller groups are pushing alternative petitions, many of which would be far more liberal than Parker’s. Though “Big Marijuana” is a concern among many activists, some of them also favor unlimited possession and cultivation – something voters would almost certainly reject.

California is core to reform movement

Marijuana is already legal for recreational use in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia. But California and its 39 million residents are seen as a much bigger prize.

Sean Parker
Sean Parker

“I think everyone views California as the Super Bowl of this movement,” said Jason Kinney, spokesman for the group behind the AUMA. “Winning here would have an impact on the rest of the country.”

Efforts to legalize marijuana in California go back decades. The first attempt was in 1972 with Proposition 19, and it failed badly: More than 66 percent of voters rejected it at the polls.

Reform efforts failed twice in the past

Thirty-eight years later, in 2010, activists tried again, this time with a new Prop. 19. That too came up short. The defeat was something of a surprise, as pre-election polls showed more than 50 percent support; the final vote was just 46.5 percent.

The reasons for this stand as a warning to advocates this time around. Opposition was strong in 2010, strong enough that it likely changed many voters’ minds. The U.S. attorney general at the time, Eric Holder, promised to crack down on pot shops if Californians legalized. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

The Obama administration has gradually changed that policy in the years since, allowing states to legalize as long as they observe several federal priorities, such as keeping cannabis away from kids.

“Voters can look at Colorado and see that the sky didn’t fall,” said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “I think that instills a lot of confidence.”

Tell us: Do you think California will legalize marijuana in November? Comment below.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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