A campaign to legalize marijuana in California is getting a head start on the 2016 election.
The Marijuana Policy Project filed documents with the California secretary of state’s office in late September that registered a new campaign committee. Now that committee can start raising and spending money.
The MPP is the biggest national group that fights for cannabis reform. Members have been planning a 2016 campaign for months, but this marks the beginning of the formal ballot process.
Activists tried four separate times to legalize pot in 2014, but each attempt failed. None of the groups behind the proposals was able to raise substantial money, as they had little national support.
But the MPP, the ACLU, and other reform groups believe the time will be right in two years. It will be a presidential election year, meaning more voters and especially more young voters, who support legalization more than any other age group.
Advocates involved in the new campaign plan to model their ballot initiative after similar measures adopted in Colorado and Washington in 2012. The legal marijuana market in those states is booming, and it’s bringing in a substantial tax haul.
California already allows medical marijuana, and it’s notoriously easy to get a recommendation. The state has decriminalized the drug for personal use, too. But weed still isn’t legal in the Golden State.
“Marijuana prohibition has had an enormously detrimental impact on California communities,” said MPP Executive Directory Rob Kampia. “Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense.”
Kampia’s organization has joined with other groups, including the ACLU. That civil liberties group pushes for legalization because marijuana bans disproportionately affect African American and Latino users.
The state’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, is also a staunch supporter of reform, and he could play a key role in getting it passed.
The last initiative to legalize appeared on the ballot in 2010. Voters defeated that proposal, but Mason Tvert, spokesman for the MPP, said that won’t happen again.
Tvert said advocates would spend the next two years building a bipartisan coalition and writing ballot language that answers the worries of certain groups that oppose legal pot.
“Obviously, it’s a whole different landscape in California, where it will cost probably as much or more to just get on the ballot as it did to run a winning campaign after getting on the ballot in Colorado,” he said.
Another major national policy group, the Drug Policy Alliance, also plans to pour money into the California campaign. Lynne Lyman, director of the alliance’s California branch, said activists hope to have ballot language ready by next summer.
Lyman said the campaign would need to raise between $8 million and $12 million to get the measure on the ballot and then convince voters to support it.
If California joins Washington and Colorado (and possibly Oregon and Alaska, both of which will vote on legal weed in November), it could change the game completely. It’s the largest state in the union, and success there could trigger reforms across the country.
“When an issue is taken up in California, it becomes a national issue,” Lyman said. “What we really hope is that with a state this large taking that step, the federal government will be forced to address the ongoing issue of marijuana prohibition.”