Pubdate: Thu, 08 Oct 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


With legal sales of medical cannabis in California approaching $2 
billion, it's hard to understand how and why nobody in the marijuana 
legalization movement has any money. But it's true.

Legalization's money troubles were evident earlier this week when 
Reform CA - a coalition of NORML and Americans for Safe Access, the 
state's marijuana activist groups; industry lobbyists representing 
dispensaries and growers; and the state NAACP - filed with the 
Attorney General its proposed language for a Nov. 2016 cannabis 
legalization voter initiative.

For the NAACP, which had filed its own legalization language in late 
September, joining Reform CA was about finding "who has the juice for 
a [successful] initiative," says Alice Huffman, president of the 
state NAACP chapter, who signed her name to the effort as a 
co-proponent. "The NAACP has no money; we just have votes."

Unfortunately, that puts the NAACP in similar company: Reform CA 
($167,000 annual budget in 2014), NORML ($312,000 in 2012, the most 
recent filings), and Americans for Safe Access (which was $182,000 in 
debt in 2012, according to income statements filed earlier this 
year), are all broke, too.

After years of false starts and a summer of well-intentioned but 
cash-poor measures that never had a shot, Reform CA was supposed to 
deliver the "consensus measure," the magic potion that would attract 
voters, satisfy the political establishment, and attract the $15-$20 
million in political venture capital necessary to run and win a 
statewide campaign.

But as of press time on Tuesday, donors are staying away.

As reported by LA Weekly before the language dropped, legalization 
advocates with the Drug Policy Alliance and labor union United Food 
and Commercial Workers are no longer involved with Reform CA, which 
introduced its ballot language without even sharing its draft with 
those supposed partners beforehand.

"We look forward to reading it," Tamar Todd, DPA's state director for 
cannabis policy, told me on Monday. "Meanwhile, we're still working 
on our own initiative."

That is a problem. Experts have repeatedly said that if there are 
competing legalization initiatives on the ballot, voters will respond 
by voting all of them down. But there's cause for concern beyond the 
specter of multiple initiatives. DPA has the significant fundraising 
clout Reform CA lacks - and, more importantly, access to some of the 
late Peter Lewis's fortune.

Lewis, the chairman of Progressive Auto Insurance, bankrolled the 
Washington state legalization initiative in 2012. He spent a total of 
$40 million on cannabis policy reform over several decades before his 
death in 2013. Since then, Lewis' heirs have funded a PAC called New 
Approach, which contributed $1.6 million to last year's successful 
legalization effort in Oregon.

Without Lewis, who will part with a fortune so California adults can 
enjoy a smoke in legal peace?

For now, all eyes on are Silicon Valley mogul Sean Parker.

We know the Napster cofounder, former Facebook president, and current 
billionaire philanthropist is interested in weed. At 35, Parker is 
the right age, and he already gave $100,000 to legalization effort 
Prop. 19 in 2010. He is also a close confidante of Lt. Gov. Gavin 
Newsom, who has served as the state's most visible and vocal 
proponent of cannabis legalization.

As for what Parker's thinking and what he wants, nobody can say.

Parker, who put $600 million of his reported $2.5 billion fortune in 
a philanthropic foundation this summer, has said very little on the 
marijuana issue publicly, aside from a throwaway comment calling 
earlier efforts "half-baked" in a San Francisco Chronicle story 
published last year. But he has secured the services of Sacramento 
campaign veterans Gale Kaufman and Brian Brokaw, as well as former 
Newsom campaign insider Jason Kinney, according to sources speaking 
on condition of anonymity (none of the three responded to requests 
for comment on Monday).

After throwing around $1.7 million in state and local elections in 
2014 - including $300,000 in San Francisco - Parker has contributed 
to two campaigns in California this year: $56,400 to Newsom's 2018 
gubernatorial bid, and $500 to District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen.

He may go off on his own. Sources close to the legalization efforts 
say that Parker's team could release its own legalization language 
soon, perhaps as early as next week.

That could explain Newsom's odd silence of late. After going on Real 
Time with Bill Maher to say that 2016 was the year to legalize - a 
statement he repeated in September, after the state Legislature 
passed regulations for the medical cannabis industry - Newsom has 
said exactly nothing about this or any other hopeful initiative.

Is he waiting on Parker?

If so, he's not alone.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom