Represent! | Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Pot advocates fail to qualify initiative for California ballot

California voters anxious to legalize pot will have to wait for at least two years.
California voters anxious to legalize pot will have to wait for at least two years.
Frank Stoltze/KPCC

Supporters of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana in California are blaming an internal disagreement over strategy for their failure to qualify a measure for the November ballot.

“Most funders of the movement think 2016 is a more viable option for a ballot initiative,” said John Lee, who led the signature gathering campaign for the Marijuana Legalization and Control Act of 2014. It was the best-funded among four campaigns this year.

In two years, voters elect a new president. More liberal voters typically go to the polls in a presidential election year. The Drug Policy Alliance and billionaire political activist George Soros were among those who decided to wait until 2016.

Lee and others pushed to place a measure on the ballot his year because polls showed California voters appear ready to legalize pot. A Field Poll in December found 55 percent of Californians now support legalization.

The Marijuana Legalization and Control Act campaign raised about $200,000, Lee said. That’s well short of the estimated $2 million necessary to run a signature-gathering effort. They would have needed another $10 million to run a successful November campaign, he said.

The campaign collected about half the necessary 504,760 signatures needed to qualify a measure, Lee said. The deadline to collect the signatures was June 26.

Failure to qualify a measure for the ballot is a big disappointment for people like David Welch. He’s an attorney who represents medical marijuana clinics in LA, and hoped voters would get a chance to decide on wider use of the drug.

“A lot of us in the medical marijuana industry were hoping...we would fall in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington,” he said. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last year.

It seems likely California voters will have a chance to vote on the issue in two years. The question is how many different versions of marijuana legalization might make the ballot. Supporters of legalization differ on a number of key issues, including how sales would be regulated and how much pot people could possess.