Californians Look to Legalization Again


In 2010, California tried to become the first state to legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana. Given that California was also the first state to legalize medical marijuana, it only seemed natural that they become the first recreational state as well. Unfortunately, Californians failed to pass the bill, garnering only 46 percent of the vote. Now, Californians are ready for round two and hope to legalize marijuana in 2016.

The Marijuana Policy Project has officially kicked off the campaign by filing paperwork with the state of California to register their campaign committee and to begin taking donations. The first hurdle that they’ll need to overcome is gaining enough signatures to get on the ballot in 2016; they need 504,760 signatures for a ballot initiative and 807,615 for a constitutional amendment.

Although medical marijuana has been under intense scrutiny in the California, pollsters found that for the first time a clear majority of 55 percent favored legalizing recreational marijuana. Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project,  said in a statement, “Public opinion has been evolving nationwide when it comes to marijuana policy, and Californians have always been ahead of the curve.”

Although polls are favorable right now, polls were also favorable for marijuana the summer leading up to the initiative’s 2010 defeat in California. One of the reasons the measure failed was the lack of political movement on behalf of the marijuana industry. Many in the medical marijuana industry, as well as some decriminalization advocates, were silent on this issue.

The ballot initiative even failed in some parts of the legendary Emerald Triangle, where a huge bulk of California’s cannabis is grown.  One of the reasons why California’s medical marijuana community turned its back on legalization was fear—fear of losing money, fear of losing their way of life and fear of corporate takeover. Given the amount of grief California’s medical marijuana industry has had over the last few years, they probably regret that inaction.

Today the atmosphere is different; Colorado and Washington already have recreational marijuana. As the dominoes begin to fall and legalization spreads across the country, things could be looking good for California as long as they know how to capitalize on the opportunity. The whole industry will need to overlook self-interest and collaborate.

With the Marijuana Policy Project settling into California, it looks like collaboration is already happening. To harness this energy, advocates need to make sure they encourage young people to vote. People under 30 overwhelmingly support marijuana legalization, yet in 2010 the youth failed to come out in record numbers as predicted.

In political years, 2016 is a lifetime away, which means there is plenty of time to ramp up legalization efforts. California has been sliding back on cannabis, but it is not too late to make progress. The national momentum is with the cannabis industry; and should Oregon legalize marijuana in November, that momentum will be unstoppable.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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