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California Marijuana Initiatives Starving for Cash [FEATURE]

Proponents of four out of five of the California marijuana initiative campaigns came together to tout the merits of their various measures at a public meeting in Mill Valley, just across the Golden Gate Bridge and up the road from San Francisco, Tuesday night. But the take away message from the confab was that every single one of the initiatives is in serious trouble if it doesn't get a large cash injection -- and soon.

the crowd listens in Mill Valley
Three of the initiatives, Regulate Marijuana Like Wine 2012 (RMLW), the Repeal Cannabis Prohibition Act of 2012 (RCPA), and the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative of 2012 (CCHHI), offer competing, though mostly similar, versions of legalization, while the  Marijuana Penalties Act of 2012 would expand decriminalization. The fifth initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act of 2012 (MMRCTA), seeks to bring statewide regulation to the state's confused and chaotic medical marijuana marketplace.

Disinterested but detailed summaries of each initiative are available at the state Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) initiative fiscal analysis web page, and are highly recommended reading for those interested in the finer picture of what each initiative does. But in summary, according to the LAO, each of the three legalization initiatives would change state law to legalize marijuana possession by adults and regulate the legal commerce in it.

Equally striking, in the LAO's analysis, each of the three legalization initiatives would save the state either "potentially tens of millions of dollars" (RMLW) or "potentially the low hundreds of millions" (RCPA, CCHHI) annually in pot prohibition enforcement costs foregone. At the same time, any of the three would generate "potentially hundreds of millions of dollars" annually in tax revenues, while the MMRCTA would generate "tens of millions of dollars" in potential additional revenues.

The LAO took care, however, to point out that its fiscal impact estimates, and especially its revenue estimates, depended highly on the nature of the federal response to marijuana legalization in California. The figures cited above happen only if the federal government allows  a legal marijuana commerce to thrive.

With that pot of green gold from legalization enticingly foreseeable, even if the path past federal intransigence is unclear, the frustration of initiative campaigners at their inability to raise money to get on the ballot is evident. With each day that passes without a paid professional signature-gathering campaign underway, the cost of gathering each signature goes up. And the clock is ticking. The initiatives have only until April 20 to turn in 504,000 valid voter signatures.

"Time is running out to get these initiatives on the ballot," RMLW campaign presenter Steve Collett, a Los Angeles attorney, told the crowd. "We're going to need to raise some money to do it. We think we need about $2 million to get on the ballot, and then we can reap $230 million a year forever."

Collett pointed to RMLW's list of endorsements and a poll it commissioned showing 62% support for the measure as enticements to potential funders. RMLW is going to need those funders, and it's in the best shape of any of the legalization initiatives.

The RMLW campaign had only raised $131,000 by the end of December, according to the California Secretary of State, and only another $20,000 since then. It currently has only 40,000-50,000 signatures gathered. The other campaigns are in even worse shape.

"We're all down to the last minute," said Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, spokesman for the RCPA campaign. "If we don't get money to get professional signature-gatherers, we don't get on the ballot," he added. "But," he reminded the audience, "with Proposition 215, we got most of the signatures in five weeks with the professionals."

Dale Gieringer of MMCTR and Bill Panzer of Repeal
CCHHI campaign spokesman Buddy Dusy was mum about fundraising, but said the campaign had 130 paid signature-gatherers. "We need to do it for Jack Herer," he said.

California NORML
head Dale Gieringer, who acted as spokesman for the MMRCTA campaign, said it was in do or die negotiations with potential funders right now and has a team of experienced campaign professionals ready to go.

"These are very critical negotiations going on right now, and we will know within another week or so if this comes through," he said. "If we don't get the money, we're not going to get on the ballot."

"Proposition 19 was the wrong election year, it was poorly drafted, and it was opposed by people in our movement who feared for patients' rights, but it still did very well," said Panzer. "Any of these initiatives can pass if they make it to the ballot."

But Gieringer argued that fixing medical marijuana needed to come first.

"All the polls I've seen show that legalization is very dicey in California, but when you talk about medical marijuana and the need for regulation, support is in the 60s," he told the crowd. "It's hard to call on the public to further liberalize the marijuana laws when they feel things are chaotic enough with medical marijuana. We have to demonstrate that we can regulate medical marijuana to make the public comfortable enough to move on to the next step, legalization."

Although there was talk Tuesday about forging unity, none of the initiative campaigns was prepared to give up and go to work for the other. That leaves three legalization campaigns and the medical marijuana initiative all competing for the same funding, and all of them -- so far at least -- coming up short.

While, barring a miracle, seeing marijuana legalization on the California ballot this year looks extremely unlikely, perhaps the movement can get its act together for 2014 or 2016. At least, the campaigns are starting to talk about it.

"We need a coalition of all the legalization people to create an organization that will be a true legalization coalition in California," said Collett. "We have the same long-term objectives, but differences about how to go about it. Sometimes egos get in the way, but we have to focus on the 70,000 Californians getting arrested for marijuana every year."

Mill Valley, CA
United States
Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Public fundraising

We need to stop relying on Soros and Lewis to fund every single initiative. Why don't we appeal to the general public? To Hollywood? Recording artists? Surely there are more than two people on the planet who believe in funding this effort.
John Thomas's picture


Right.  SAMHSA research shows more than 100 million Americans have consumed marijuana at some time in their life.  There are an estimated 30 to 40 million current consumers.   NORML should pick an initiative in each state and activate its membership to contribute - whether they live in one of the attempting states or not.  

Then it should do everything in its power to get the message out to all consumers through the media.  It's time to get serious about this. 


  I would be more than happy to donate product to a dispensary like yours

knowing the proceeds would benefit the California Initiative. Would you do

the same with profits from the sales? Anyone else care to follow suit?

Those billionaires shouldn't be a major factor in true democracy

It's amazing that Facebook can set up a system that can handle 500 million people (and support Arab Spring and other mass movements) but the State of California cannot create a simple petitioning/voting process for a few million voters.  If it wasn't for the current archaic process, these petitions would already be on the ballot and probably would have passed in a November election years ago.  It's crazy that an initiative By the People For the People can't move forward without the financial backing of the super rich.  That's not true democracy.  That's shit.  It's also why the leading crop of Presidential candidates suck ass out of can. 

Except Dr. Ron

Except Dr. Ron Paul. 

DaveMan50 L.V.

We need to get it together in Cali

Its odd to hear that in the span of a few sentences one initiative says that legalization is "dicey;" and in the next that a poll showed 62%.

I am prone to believe that people want legalization. Recent polls suggest that 19 lost because it was too complicated, not because it was not strict enough. People are not up in arms about dispensaries. The only people complaining are drug war profiteers. In the 16 years since Prop 215 we have moved far forward in ending prohibition on marijuana, the people have become far more accepting of wholesale legalization - Not less.

I think that everyone has got to be looking at this situation in California, and praying that the initiatives can stop their bickering and just bring it together before it is too late.

add equipment step

"We have to demonstrate that we can regulate medical marijuana to make the public comfortable enough to move on to the next step, legalization." Nothing to disagree with in Gieringer's point, but there is a further step which if inserted here can make the transition smoother and more certain: to design the virtues of control and moderation into standard equipment for administering cannabis.   This includes: vaporizers, on the market now but expensive; e-cigarette (one brand, Vapor Rush, was announced in June 2010 as available only in selected California dispensaries; will production be expanded? long-stem handvape utensils (one-hitter plus a flexible lengthening tube) cheaply made from 1/4"-diam. pvc tube, #40 screen, 2" safety pin (screen maintenance), socket wrench, barbed hose nipple, shaped glass etc.  A  Using the 2-mm "heat gap" from tip of flame to opening of utensil to achieve control over air entry temperature, you can vaporize (385F/197C)rather than ignite 25 mg of sifted herb in a screened crater with diameter of 7/32"=5.5 mm and depth (at screen level) of 3/16"=5 mm.  This progression to safety utensils is an opportunity one could expect medical users, with their exposure to professional information, to be alert to, and they can then help serve as an example of "responsible use" which the public is ready to vote for.


No one wants to restrict medical

There is no will in the people to change medical marijuana except in the hearts of drug war profiteers.

Furthermore, does anyone else feel a little creeped out by MMRCTA claims of public outcry on dispensaries - that the voters want more control on medical marijuana? We have not seen that outcry in the people, but one thing is clear, someone is reporting every little thing in the main stream media almost in concert with the feds raiding people.  A 30 BILLION dollar interdiction budget buys a lot of propaganda.

Gieringer was very poorly received. For a NORML officer to propone for MMRCTA seemed like it felt a lot like treason to many there. Legalization is clearly favored by voters. Gieringer claimed to have not seen the scientific poll Like Wine commisioned that put legalization at 62% in California. No one believed that for a moment and we are all asking: What is really going on?

Check out the poll yourself, Californians are demanding legalization not more drug war era control:

>> Like Wine Poll <<

share the signature gatherers

If someone paid for the signature gatherers could they collect signatures for all the initiatives?

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