Why the Idea of "Starting Over" Anytime Soon on Legal Weed in California isn't Rooted in Reality
Proposition 64 in California has been nothing short of a dumpster fire ever since its first game-changing provisions took effect in July of 2018, and that fire rages hotter than ever as we near the end of 2019.
Prop 64, as you may know, was the voter initiative passed in November of 2016 that established the framework of regulations to legalize the production, sale, possession and adult use of cannabis. After consistently polling at 60%+ in public support, Prop 64 was passed with 57% of the vote and was signed into law soon thereafter.
This despite the fact that some of the most prominent voices from the grassroots of California’s well-established cannabis community were very outspoken in their opposition to Prop 64, for all of the reasons why it sucks today.
Nevertheless, the promise of “legal weed” was too appealing to voters who never read the fine print. It took the state over a year and a half to begin to implement those new regulations and the legal, licensed market felt the squeeze immediately.
A toxic combination of ridiculously high permitting and licensing fees, the costs just to get compliant enough to apply for those permits and licenses, unprecedented tax rates from harvest to retail sale, too much local control divested to conservative cities, towns, and counties who refuse to allow legal cannabis operations, and rampant corruption trickling down from Sacramento to the rest of the state’s micromarkets has made the legal market less than desirable to both legacy operators and the diehard cannabis consumers that the state was counting on for success.
Instead, the state has had to continually lower their predicted haul of cannabis tax revenues – down from an original/optimistic estimate of $1 billion per year to now the reality that the state won’t bring in even a third of that in 2019.
Bottom line: It’s not working for anyone.
Naturally, there has been a lot of talk of “replacing” Prop 64, essentially starting over. Unfortunately, that is not a realistic goal. This system is now woven into the state’s constitution and even if there was support to overturn it, what would we have then? It wouldn’t automatically reinstate the glory of the Prop215/SB420 era – those days are over.
Passing an entirely new initiative – such as CCHI2020 – would require cooperation throughout the legal cannabis market and the street market, it would require substantial support from those who only take a toke occasionally, and even more support from those who don’t particularly like weed but aren’t opposed to it either. But more than any of those, it requires money. Lots and lots of money.
The two main benefactors of the push to pass Prop 64, for example, were billionaire George Soros and multimillionaire Sean Parker of Napster fame. We are less than a year away from the 2020 general election and that sort of funding is nowhere in sight.
Here is the process to get a voter initiative approved and onto the ballot, and then passed by the voters.
1. The initiative has to be written. This is everything, it has to start here. Yes, you will need money but who in their right mind will part with their money if you cannot tell them what the goal is? CCHI2016 was (most of) one page long and included allowances for things like a 99 plant count limit for every adult and the right to carry up to 12 pounds of “personal” weed on you at any given time – “no questions asked” as their supporters liked to say. Can you really picture widespread, mainstream support for 99 plants growing in or around every house in the state? Writing these initiatives is a balancing act between ideals and reality. The key is to identify reachable goals that all voters can easily understand. CCHI2016, for example, called for a flat 10% tax on recreational cannabis sales and 0% on medical cannabis sales. That is winning language, ready to be digested by tax-hating voters. As you can see, there are major conflicts just within that one piece of proposed legislation, and those conflicts can’t even be sorted out among fellow advocates, let alone among the general voting public.
2. Welcome to the beginning and end of your grassroots effectiveness – you must rally support from influential community partners. Again, not just cool stoners, but local civic groups, politicians, etc. This is where your passion will first be tested.
3. Begin your general awareness campaign. You’ll need help. Will others volunteer? Will they share your passion? Will their ideals mirror your own? The purpose of this campaign will be twofold: Yes, you’ll want voters to get your bug in their ear early, but you’re also trying to reach potential donors, the “free ride” is almost over.
4. Your draft initiative must be submitted to the state’s Attorney General who will validate it and grant its official title and summary, officially making your initiative an “Active Measure”.
5. Now it is time to gather signatures. Oh, wait, you already gathered at least a million dollars for this, right? Honestly, it could cost 5-10x that much in a busy election season. This is where CCHI has historically failed, failing to ever make a ballot. In fact, no “volunteer force” of signature gatherers has even successfully placed any cannabis initiative on the ballot – you gotta pay. You’ll need a minimum of 500,000 verified signatures to proceed – this means you better gather no less than 750,000 because a massive chunk of them will be deemed invalid for a variety of reasons. Further, all signatures must be hand signed – no digital signatures, no apps, no boost from the web. This is where most well-intentioned legislative attempts die. Without a billionaire behind you, democracy remains out of reach.
6. If your signatures are gathered and verified, your initiative will be given the new status of Qualified for Ballot. At this point you are essentially back to Steps 2 & 3, constantly raising awareness, constantly recruiting new influencers, and constantly trying to raise more money to keep it all moving forward.
7. Election Day – was all of the effort and all of the resources worth it? The voters will decide! Do all you can to get out the vote.
As you can see, simply erasing Prop 64 and starting over isn’t all that simple. A more realistic approach is to amend the laws we have, often by way of these voter initiatives, one step at a time. I know that is not very exciting but Californians should have considered that before passing Prop 64.