No initiative

2012 will go down as the year of marijuana ballot bummers

April 20 is not only a stoner holiday, it marks the certified failure of any and all 2012 cannabis-initiative efforts in California.

Groups such as Regulate Marijuana Like Wine and Repeal Cannabis Prohibition had until the epic weed day to file more than a half-a-million signatures for their initiatives. None of them came close.

It’s a bummer state of affairs that would surprise the average weed-positive citizen, especially after Proposition 19 came within 400,000 votes of legalizing cannabis just two years ago.

Insiders are taken aback.

“I was really hopeful,” said Santa Rosa attorney Joe Rogoway, co-organizer of Repeal Cannabis Prohibition 2012.

“Prop. 19 had a galvanizing effect nationally,” said Stephen Gutwillig, deputy executive director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

“We were all very optimistic when Prop. 19 got 46 percent of the vote. When it was that large, we were sort of very enthusiastic,” said Bill Zimmerman, a California political consultant who has worked on 31 initiatives, including Proposition 215.

But post-Prop. 19 polling revealed a tough journey to the 2012 ballot. “We learned that legalizing marijuana would be a difficult sell,” Zimmerman said.

The 2012 election would bring out more legalization votes, but more opposition votes as well, such as females and seniors, he said. Polling showed a Prop. 19 repeat had 50-50 odds of passing, and “when it comes to investing millions of dollars in an initiative, those numbers don’t look very good,” Zimmerman said.

Viable initiatives should poll in at least the low 60s, because the opposition will peel off voters along the way to Election Day. Running Prop. 19 again meant $1.5 million to $2 million for signatures, plus anywhere from $10 million to $15 million to wage an advertising campaign to retain 50-plus-1 percent of the vote.

Steve Kubby, co-organizer of Regulate Marijuana Like Wine, was one of six initiative campaigns running for 2012. “We recognized and felt the drag of disunity on our campaign and on the donors’ confidence levels,” he said.

Others agreed. “We do suffer from having a lot of big personalities and people who are not willing to compromise on things that ultimately are trivial,” said Rogoway.

Each Hail Mary effort lurched ahead last fall without a major backer, and attempted to gather donors big and small along the way. Wine tried to tap Orange County libertarians and Silicon Valley to little effect.

Some donors said California legalization initiatives are a solution looking for a problem. In reality, more than 99.99 percent of all cannabis transactions are not interdicted. Personal possession is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine. If one would believe Prop. 215’s critics, anyone with a bum elbow can get a recommendation for cannabis from a specialist, and obtain the drug at a storefront or delivery dispensary in their area. What’s to fight over?

“That’s exactly what I heard from some aides to some of these big donors,” Kubby said.

The stance amounts to accepting a racist, classist form of détente in the drug war, Zimmerman said.

“The situation you are describing is one that affects white people,” he said. “Marijuana laws are still being used by police in poor and minority neighborhoods to hassle young people on the street.”

Groups like Michael Jolson and the California Cannabis Hemp & Health Initiative also sought nontraditional funding. Jolson tried and failed to make inroads in Hollywood, reaching out to Snoop Dogg and Larry Flynt. He was rebuffed by E-40 and Too Short as well, he said.

This was ironic. “Somehow, they didn’t want to be associated with pot,” he said.

As Kickstarter ( and redefine campaign finance, crowd-funding legalization is still in its infancy. Prop. 19 had raised several hundred thousand dollars in small donations, but the 2012 groups couldn’t get lightning to strike twice, Gutwillig said.

“It’s not something that can be invented overnight or one election cycle to the next,” said Gutwillig.

Looking toward 2014, at least three factions have already staked out their claims: Repeal, Wine, and CCHHI. Has the movement already begun sabotaging itself again?

“Nothing is there to prevent it,” said Kubby.

“I think unity will prevail. I think we’ve learned,” said Rogoway.

And differences of opinion are good, added Gutwillig. Think of it as healthy competition. “There is no one obvious way to replace marijuana prohibition,” he said.

While more than 50 percent of Californians agree with the general notion legalizing pot, there is no detailed implementation that can carry a supermajority. So the otherwise ebullient April 20 this year will also sort of a downer.