Pubdate: Wed, 26 Nov 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Marijuana Legalization Is Far From a Sure Thing in 2016


Hunter S. Thompson knew best. To take the nation's temperature, and 
to find the real center of it all, you have to go to Las Vegas. 
Earlier this month, American Dream-seekers donned clean jeans and 
crisp button-downs to decamp to the desert to talk business ideas 
involving grow lights, smell-proof plastic bags, and other ways to 
tap the "billions" in market potential right around the corner, 
thanks to the cannabis plant and the end of cannabis Prohibition.

The timing of this year's annual Marijuana Business Conference and 
Expo couldn't have been finer: It was the week after Alaska, Oregon, 
and Washington, D.C. all legalized marijuana in a near-clean sweep of 
the "Marijuana Midterms." Buoyed by the good news, some 2,500 seekers 
of marijuana fortunes attended, three times the crowd seen last year. 
The swell proves that Wall Street is hungry and old money is hungry 
to enter a market that grows with each new calculation.

Last year, Bay Area-based ArcView Group said the adult recreational 
marijuana marketplace would reach $10 billion by 2018. Last week, the 
market surged to $20 billion by 2020, according to the claim from a 
New York City-based firm. That's some fine growth, considering total 
recreational sales in Colorado and Washington are roughly $210 
million to date. The sky's the limit. Up the ante.

Here in California, politicians are getting ready. Early adopter Lt. 
Gov. Gavin Newsom started making nice to marijuana almost two years 
ago. And 2016 will be the year legalization happens, says Newsom, 
who's chairing an American Civil Liberties Union committee that is 
tasked with crafting ballot language on legalization that California 
voters would approve (though it's been 13 months and the committee 
has yet to publish a recommendation).

Even California Attorney General Kamala Harris is feeling it. A few 
months after laughing off a Sacramento TV reporter's question about 
whether she'd back legalization, Harris did an about-face and told a 
top BuzzFeed editor that marijuana legalization seems to have "a 
certain inevitability about it."

Better yet, legal marijuana presents no "moral" problems for the 
Oakland-born career prosecutor. After all, "half my family's from 
Jamaica," she told Adam Serwer. Always laughing.

It's obvious these are feel-good times. And it's hard even for cynics 
not to share the exuberance when adults can legally smoke up outside 
the headquarters of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

But closer to home, all the buzz - marijuana midterms, billions of 
dollars, jokes about ganja on the beach - dissipates. For a sobering 
reality check of where we're really at, head north on Interstate 5. 
The best warning sign is in Sisikyou County.

There is no weed in Weed.

The city of Weed - with its much-photographed road sign - is 
red-state, Christian California, where there are more cowboy hats 
than kale and where the tech boom is measured by the very long drive 
to the nearest Apple store.

In Weed, voters said "no" to legal marijuana twice. Voters rejected 
both dispensaries as well as outdoor cultivation earlier this month. 
Strict rules that nearly outlaw cultivation met voters' approval in 
Shasta, Butte, Lake, and Nevada counties, California NORML notes, and 
several cities in Southern California - which has two-thirds of the 
state's population - also banned dispensaries.

These are exactly the voters that legalization supporters will need 
to win over in two years. And right now, they are outright hostile.

"How come no one noticed that cannabis lost big in California this 
election cycle?" one marijuana businessman asked me. I had no answer.

At this early stage, three main groups with the means are laying 
groundwork to legalize marijuana in California in 2016: Marijuana 
Policy Project, Drug Policy Alliance, and the Coalition for Cannabis 
Policy Reform. MPP is known as the group that led the current 
legalization push, winning over voters in Colorado with the message 
that "cannabis is safer than alcohol." Veteran player Drug Policy 
Alliance has a national name and ability to draw funds from some of 
the deepest pockets around, though some of the billionaires who 
bankrolled them, Peter Lewis and John Sperling, died within the last 
year. CCPR is made up of familiar faces in California labor and 
legalization circles, including what's left of the Oakland-based 
committee that put Prop. 19 on the ballot in 2010 (legalization lost 
by seven percentage points).

Though 2016 presidential candidates are already making calls and 
opening up offices, it's still far too early to say who has a real 
chance, or if all three pro-marijuana groups can be counted on to 
support the same measure.

It's also too early to say who's going to pay for it all.

In 2010, Prop. 19 was hamstrung by fundraising. The campaign 
eventually came up with $4 million to swing the nearly 10 million 
people in California who voted.

That's about 40 cents per vote. Compare that to last month's Measure 
91 in Oregon. There, legalization proponents had almost $7 million to 
spend on 1.3 million voters. That's nearly $5 per vote.

Most estimates of what it would take to legalize cannabis here hover 
in the $12 to $15 million range. But if Oregon's spending was 
repeated here, we'd need almost $50 million to turn the tide, an 
incredible number that requires either an extremely wealthy patron or 
an unprecedented grassroots effort in order for it to become real.

Before 2016 and the billions must come the millions. And those are 
anything but guaranteed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom