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Are Activists Becoming Irrelevant To Marijuana Legalization?

Russ Belville

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Are Activists Becoming Irrelevant To Marijuana Legalization?

The Sacramento Bee has a story up entitled “Big money, frictions light up 2016 pot initiative drive” about the fight to legalize marijuana in California.

It has me wondering: Was 2014 the last year for activist-led marijuana legalization?

The story focuses on Sean Parker, the billionaire founder of Napster and early investor in Facebook. He’s decided to throw his considerable wealth at drafting a marijuana legalization initiative all his own.

That’s left longtime California legalization activists scrambling, some of whom had already put in well over a decade fighting for marijuana legalization by the time Sean Parker was born, just 28 days before 1980.

ReformCA was supposed to be the activist coalition to champion the legalization fight. Made up of veterans of the failed Proposition 19 campaign from 2010, ReformCA was to be the cautious, mainstream approach to legalization in comparison to more radical approaches, such as the biennially-proposed “Jack Herer Initiative” known as CCHI (California Cannabis Hemp Initiative), or the slightly-less radical MCLR (Marijuana Control, Legalization, & Revenue Act).

ReformCA boasted the support of major California marijuana grower and medical marijuana associations, civil rights leaders like California NAACP president Ms. Alice Huffman, as well as the big established legalization activist groups Americans for Safe Access (ASA), California NORML, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), and Drug Policy Alliance (DPA).

But then MPP and DPA backed out of ReformCA. DPA made noise about drafting their own initiative language, but now appears to be warming up to the Sean Parker initiative. SF Weekly’s Chris Roberts also reports that the New Approach PAC, which bankrolled Oregon’s legalization and is funded by the late Peter Lewis’ estate, is onboard with Parker, as well as two Pritzker family Hyatt Hotel heirs.

That leaves ReformCA without the big money backers they need, except for a few like Justin Hartfield of WeedMaps, who sits on National NORML’s and MPP’s boards. The difference would be that Sean Parker shows up as #268 on the Forbes 400 at $2.5 billion net worth, and Hartfield is still missing that third comma in his net worth.

Whatever initiative Parker moves forward with, it seems like that would be the front-runner for California legalization, just based on the sheer power of money in politics. National players like MPP and DPA were once the gatekeepers to the donations from the three-comma club of philanthropic drug reformers Peter Lewis, John Sperling, and George Soros.

Now their days as gatekeepers may be numbered and their influence waning. In just eleven days, ten wealthy financiers are set to pass marijuana legalization in Ohio that is as much a personal investment as it is a social reform. Billionaires in California are eyeing the world’s biggest marijuana market and deciding they can create it themselves without activist help.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’ blue ribbon commission issued a report on how California legalization should proceed. In it, his commission stated that marijuana legalization “should not be California’s next Gold Rush.” But unless the California Assembly puts forth a marijuana legalization proposition, any initiative fighting for the 2016 ballot will need huge amounts of money, and those billionaires are seeing marijuana gold in them thar hills.

"Radical" Russ Belville hosts 'The Marijuana Agenda' on YouTube, a live weekday news/talk program all about cannabis. Learn more at MJAgenda.com.

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