Disappointed yet emboldened by Proposition 19's eight point loss a week ago, state and national marijuana legalization leaders are already planning to push for initiatives in as many as five states in 2012. Meetings in California and Colorado in the past few days are laying the groundwork for legalization initiatives there, and similar efforts are being talked about for Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
"I just got out of a meeting where we're trying to put together an all-star team to be the board for a 2012 campaign," said Richard Lee, the Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur behind the Prop 19 campaign. "We're hoping to have a formal announcement Thursday, but we'll see how that goes."
If it happens, though, don't count on Lee to be kicking in a million-plus dollars again. "Part of the reason for building this coalition is that I'm tapped out," said Lee. "But I think we got our money's worth, we got a $100 million worth of free media."
The meeting Lee mentioned was of the group's steering board, said activist team Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, who were there. "We're exploring another initiative run in 2012, and it's looking pretty likely because we achieved so much with this campaign, especially with the coalitions we built to support this effort," said Norris.
"There is a real interest in making sure the activist base is included," said Conrad. "We want to try to avoid the divisiveness of this campaign," he added, alluding to intramural attacks from some growers, the Stoners Against Prop 19 types, and elements of the medical marijuana community. "But people feel they have to have a certain thing, and how can you achieve unity like that? People have to be able to compromise," he said.
National reform groups are also feeling optimistic about 2012. "Even though we lost in California, Richard ended up doing a good thing for the movement," said NORML founder Keith Stroup. "When you look at what went on in the last six or eight months, I don’t think legalization was ever taken seriously by politicians and the press until now. It was probably worth the three or four million spent on that to force marijuana legalization into the national and international spotlight."
Despite this year's loss, "the big picture is Gallup polls showing support higher than ever," said Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mike Meno. "Even some Californians who voted against Prop 19 believe it should be legal. On the central issue, it seems the public is increasingly on our side and heading for a majority."
Prop 19 brought the issue center stage, Meno said. "This year, we had more mainstream press coverage than ever, the debate is out in the open, and many Americans are now for the first time in their lives really thinking seriously about legalizing marijuana."
"There seems to be a consensus around working toward 2012," said Meno. "It's a presidential election year, and there will be more young voters. If the polls continue to trend up, there's no reason not to optimistic that states like Colorado or Washington couldn’t pass something like Prop 19. We're looking at strategically supporting a pair of legalization initiatives in Colorado and California. Support is high, and we have two more years to build on that."
"If I were a betting man, I'd say there's a better than 50-50 chance we'll see initiatives in California and Colorado, said Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann. "It's hard to say about the other states at this point."
Nadelmann saw three possibilities for 2012 initiatives. "First is that badly drafted initiatives get on the ballot and then lose badly," he said. "But my hope is that well-drafted initiatives get on the ballot with strong majority support, and that inspires wealthy donors to provide backing. The third possibility is that well-drafted initiatives get on the ballot notwithstanding the fact they have less than 50% going in. The challenge in that case will be to ensure that even though they are likely headed for defeat, they move the ball forward like Prop 19 and Colorado in 2006."
Initiative campaigns will focus on a number of themes, said Nadelmann. "You have the continuing nightmare in Mexico, you have the surveys showing young people saying it's easier to buy pot than alcohol, and you have the continuing indictment of the failures of prohibition," he said. "And evidence that decriminalization is not enough. Decrim in California and New York did not prevent massive increases in arrests in the past 20 years and the racial disproportionality that accompanied them. Legalization may have its risks, but it's preferable to the status quo.
There are a few cautionary voices when it comes to another legalization initiative in California. "Another initiative here in California might be a good idea, but it's premature to say that," said Dale Gieringer of California NORML. CANORML supported Prop 19, but Gieringer from the beginning voiced doubts about its prospects for success. He has doubts again about 2012 in California.
"California voters don’t really like to have the same issue revisited in successive elections," he said. "There have been a bunch of issues that have failed under those circumstances," he recalled, ticking off parental concept for abortion, eminent domain reform, and a school voucher initiative. "I can't think of a case where people have been able to flip the vote in two years," the student of California politics said.
Gieringer also raised another potential problem. "Who is going to fund it? Richard Lee said he doesn’t have the money to do it again. You need a million dollars to get on the ballot," he pointed out. "If I were a major funder, I'd be looking at a less expensive state," he said.
Still, Gieringer said, CANORML would be holding a statewide conference in January to try to begin to see if there is a consensus that can be reached among the state's complex and fractious pot community.
It doesn’t have to be an initiative. There is the legislative process, and this year, Rep. Tom Ammiano managed to get his legalization bill through the Assembly Public Safety Committee. He'll be back at it next year.
"We will be reintroducing our bill to tax and regulate at the beginning of the next session," said Ammiano spokesperson Quintin Mecke. "We'll be looking at any possible changes between now and then."
Mecke credited Prop 19 with moving the issue forward. "I think Prop 19 has put marijuana firmly in the mainstream conversation and the public policy conversation is now being debated at the highest levels of government. People can't just make jokes about it anymore. We are getting close to challenging this notion that we can deal with marijuana simply through law enforcement."
And it doesn't have to be California.In Colorado, SAFER (Safe Alternatives for Enjoyable Recreation) and Sensible Colorado last Thursday announced that they were pushing ahead with a legalization initiative for 2012. And Saturday, a statewide conference brought national movement figures including SSDP head Aaron Houston, Drug Policy Alliance head Ethan Nadelmann, Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project, and Prop 19's Jeff Jones to Denver to help lay the groundwork. The Saturday summit was also the scene of the announcement of a second initiative campaign, Legalize It 2012, a Jack Herer-style "freedom based" measure, led by Laura Kriho of the Boulder-based Cannabis Therapy Institute.
"There is a great deal of interest in a 2012 statewide initiative to regulate marijuana and start treating it like alcohol," said SAFER's Tvert. "I think we're poised to make this happen. We've seen support go up dramatically over the past five years and internal polls had it at about 50% this year. Attitudes here have reached a point where this is very realistic," he said.
"The folks in Colorado are determined to go forward even if the polls are not promising," said Nadelmann. "We are committed to trying to make this as smart and tight an initiative as possible, even though it will be difficult to raise money."
"We need to get a lot of folks opinion on this, particularly the medical marijuana industry here, where we have hundreds of licensed medical marijuana centers," Tvert said. "We hope to work with them to pass a law that will benefit everyone. There is no specific language yet, but that is what we are beginning to get together."
Tvert said he hoped the community would coalesce around one initiative. "People are doing polling and seeing what language will work," he said. "I hope in the end we will go forward with one initiative that will be the best law possible."
As noted above, similar efforts are underway in Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. The marijuana reform movement thinks it is can go over the top in the next election cycle. Only 103 weeks until we find out if they're right.