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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Money Is the Real Reason Marijuana Isn't Legal in California

Posted By on Wed, Nov 19, 2014 at 10:11 AM

For two years now, other states have been running around stealing California's thunder and beating the country's cannabis capital to legalizing marijuana. 

Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska — and now D.C.. That's right: legal marijuana arrived at the White House and the headquarters of the DEA before it came to the green fields of Humboldt County.

Ain't that some shit. 

This drives legalization supporters absolutely mad, and onto a quest for reasons why this happened — and for scapegoats.  

Some blame mainstream Democrats, who came out hard against Proposition 19 in 2010 and surely helped the legalization measure lose by seven percentage points. The federal Justice Department, which informed the state and some state officials that they could be locked up if legalization went through, also played a role.

But the real reason? As the big-time spending on Measure 91 in Oregon showed, is money. As in not enough of it. 
It's expensive to run an election anywhere, but it's prohibitively expensive to run an election in California, where you need massive amounts of cash to collect enough signatures just to put something on the ballot. And then you might need $10 million or more to convince voters to approve your measure.

That pile of cash never arrived in 2010. Prop. 19 got on the ballot, thanks to Richard Lee and Oaksterdam University, which spent $1.5 million on the signature drive and campaign. All told, legalization supporters came up with $4,050,581 to spend swaying 9,976,822 voters.

That's about 40 cents per vote — or less than 10 percent of what was just spent in Oregon, which has 10 percent California's population. 

To pass Measure 91, supporters spent $6,960,756.13 to swing a majority of 1,383,921 voters. That's nearly $5 per vote. Quite a difference, especially when you consider the magnified power of big-time media buys (none of which happened in California in 2010).

There are currently at least two committees preparing to circulate ballot petitions in California next year. To match Oregon's spending, marijuana legalization supporters would need to come up with almost $50 million.  

That will not happen. The committees will be lucky to produce $15 million — and absent a miracle gift from a tech billionaire, even that might not happen.

As usual, cash rules everything around us. 

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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