Although a wild-eyed legion of cannabis activists emerged last year in hopes of legalizing their version of recreational marijuana in California, it seems that, like it or not, only the financially endowed have survived long enough to give the state a fighting chance of ending prohibition in November’s general election.
Leading the movement to bring legal weed to the Golden State is Napster founder and tech billionaire Sean Parker, who has reportedly contributed $500,000 to help launch the campaign supporting his “Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA). The initiative, which has become one of the most hated among competing marijuana activists, would establish a taxed and regulated cannabis trade that allows adults 21 and over to engage in home cultivation and buy weed in retail shops all across the state.
Some of the latest predictions show that California’s recreational pot market could become one of the largest in the United States – pulling down somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year in tax revenue.
But campaigns for ballot measures such as this are historically known for being money pits when it comes to simply collecting the necessary signatures to earn a spot on the ballot. It is for this reason that a committee has been assembled entitled “Californians to Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana While Protecting Children” in which members, including New Approach PAC and Drug Policy Action, have each bought in at a rate of $250,000 to see that legalization has a better than average shot at becoming a reality. Including Parker’s sizable donation of $500,000, the group has already accumulated an impressive $1.25 million to fire the campaign out of the starting gate.
Yet, a million dollars is really just a drop in the bucket in comparison to what it might actually take to get this initiative approved by the voters. Earlier last year, Troy Dayton with the ArcView Group told Bloomberg that marijuana activists should expect to spend in upwards of $20 million to bring a recreational cannabis industry to California in 2016. Dayton said an investment of this magnitude would be necessary because opposing forces, including law enforcement and national anti-marijuana groups, would only have to spend about $10 million to run interference and prompt voters to turn against the measure at the polls.
Parker’s proposal, which has been endorsed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, is being largely criticized by the marijuana community over a wealth of issues ranging from its restrictions on home cultivation to the severity of the penalties for violating the state’s pot possession limits. According to the initiative, residents would be allowed to grow only up to six plants, while strict possession limits of up to an ounce in public would also be imposed. And while it is rarely necessary to carry more than an ounce of weed at a time, it is the proposed penalties attached to this violation that has caused reformers’ skin to crawl. That’s because the initiative dictates that anyone caught with more pot than legally permitted can be fined $500 while also receiving up to six months in jail.
Many argue that no legitimate marijuana activist would ever dare include the potential for criminal penalties within a proposal aimed at ending pot prohibition, suggesting that Parker’s plan has more to do with financial gain than putting a stop to antiquated drug laws.
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Dale Sky Jones, chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, part of a now defunct legalization initiative under the name ReformCA, suggests the Parker initiative is “not true legalization,” but merely a “softer prohibition.”
Nevertheless, it appears the AUMA has the best shot of passing in 2016. Last week, the state attorney general gave the initiative the green light to begin collecting the 365,880 signatures needed to qualify for a spot on the ballot in November’s general election.