There are now four states that have legalized marijuana. Those of course are Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), Oregon (2014), and Alaska (2014). Washington D.C. also voted to legalize marijuana in 2014. For a long time, most marijuana activists and analysts assumed that California would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. After all, California was the first to legalize medical marijuana. However, a successful recreational marijuana campaign hasn’t happened yet in California. Why is that? What would it take for California to legalize marijuana in 2016?
There are four things that I always offer up when I’m asked this question, which is a question I get asked daily via e-mail or social media. The first thing that will need to happen in order for California to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016 is unity. In the last two elections (2012 and 2014), California has had way too many competing initiatives. No state will legalize marijuana if it’s running four separate campaigns that refuse to work together, let alone California. Everyone needs to get behind one initiative, and give it all they got. Every national organization needs to get on board, and not try to hide behind the ‘it is not our initiative, so we are going to focus on other states’ BS. California will take everyone’s efforts, everyone’s resources, and everyone’s talents to succeed. If the reform community can unite, large contributors such as celebrities will follow.
The next thing I always offer up is that it’s going to take A LOT of money to legalize recreational marijuana in California in 2016. Oregon took roughly 4 million dollars to legalize during the 2014 Election, and that didn’t include another million dollars leading up to the election that was spend behind the scenes. California will take a bare minimum of 18-20 million dollars to legalize, and could potentially cost more than that. If Oregon cost 4 million to gather signatures and run media blitzes, than California is going to cost exponentially more. The signature requirement is higher in California than any other state that has ever run a successful legalization campaign. Anyone that has ever looked into media costs in California likely got sticker shock, and that’s just per market, of which there are MANY in California. Oregon only has a handful of large population centers around the state and it costs millions to run ads in those areas. Compare that to California, which has so many population centers that need to have strong media campaigns, it makes my head spin. The low end figure of 18 million could prove to be far too low.
The third thing I offer up to people is that there needs to be a strong initiative that is well written and heavily vetted. In a perfect world, marijuana would be regulated like tomatoes. However, regulating marijuana like tomatoes does not poll well at all, and if an initiative’s language doesn’t poll well, it doesn’t get large funding. The marijuana community is going to have have to balance between an initiative that contains everything we want but doesn’t get off the ground, and an initiative that makes some compromises but has a great chance of winning on Election Day 2016. The latter initiative is obviously not perfect, but it’s so much better than prohibition that it’s worth pursuing in my opinion.
Finally, a successful campaign in California in 2016 will require a strong campaign team. I’d personally like to see an ‘all-star cast’ made up of California reform leaders combined with members from other successful campaigns. I guarantee if you put California’s leading activists in the same room as people like Mason Tvert, Adam Eidinger, and Anthony Johnson, good things will happen. There will need to be professional campaigners from outside of the marijuana world too, but not at the expense of activists from inside of the marijuana fishbowl. If you have other things that you think I missed, by all means include them in the comments below. There’s always a chance that the California Legislature could legalize marijuana before the 2016 Election and save the reform community a lot of money and effort, but assuming that doesn’t happen, I think this four things are going to be required for a successful effort during the 2016 Election. This article is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a list of the top things that I offer up to people. Go get ’em California, you can do this!!!! Onward to 2016!!!!