July 12 2016 04:30 PM

Opponents of legalized pot say they don’t need big bucks to prevail

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom
Photo via Wiki Commons

Brace yourselves for the pot onslaught.

The battle lines have been drawn and the coffers are fattening for an all-out fight ahead of the Nov. 8 vote to make California the fifth state to allow recreational marijuana.

Already, the fight over Proposition 64—the so-called "Adult Use Marijuana Act"—is shaping up on a far bigger scale than what California saw in 2010, when legalization lost by nearly 700,000 votes.

In one corner: social justice advocates, most of the cannabis industry and a growing roster of state Democrats.

In the other corner: the law and order contingent. Roughly half of the $130,000 raised so far has come from law enforcement groups and prison guards.

With more money and a broader coalition of support this time around, Yes on 64 is vowing to launch a grassroots campaign that will far surpass 2010 efforts.

"We're not taking anything for granted," said spokesman Brian Brokaw. "We've put together one of the most thoughtful and well-researched initiatives, with input from more stakeholders than any other legalization measure in California history, if not the country."

Marijuana has come a long way since its defeat six years ago. Four states (and Washington, D.C.) have legalized recreational use. California, meanwhile, has nurtured a green rush of medical cannabis that has thrust scores of entrepreneurs into the highest tax brackets.

Both will come to bear on Prop 64: The pro-camp has brought on strategists who won hard-fought campaigns in other states, and Weedmaps CEO Justin Hartfield has upped his contribution to more than $1 million, now outspending previous donation leader Sean Parker, he of Napster and Facebook fame.

With four months to go until Election Day, funding has far surpassed what was raised in the entirety of the 2010 campaign, which saw $4.5 million raised by proponents and $420,000 by opponents.

Already, Yes on 64 is sitting on a $6 million war chest.

But perhaps the most important departure from the ill-fated 2010 effort: The state's Democratic party is throwing its full political weight behind legalization—most notably Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has already started stumping across the state.

Proponents can have their financial edge and their lead in pre-election polls, opponents say. Neither mattered last time.

"What we learned in 2010 is that we do not need to match them dollar for dollar. Because we can't," said John Lovell, spokesman for several law enforcement groups opposed to Prop 64. "We do need to raise enough money to raise a viable campaign, and I think we will. And I believe we'll win again."

Their strategy is to make it not a referendum on marijuana itself, but on this specific version of legalization. Central to that critique is their view that Prop 64 is written less like a piece of policy and more like a business plan that caters toward large corporate structures. For that reason, some corners of medical cannabis are aligning against Prop 64 out of a fear that it will engender a Walmart-ization of the marijuana industry.

"This is not a campaign of 'Marijuana, is it bad or good?' That's a different type of debate," said Tim Rosales, spokesman for No on Prop 64. "This is about the specific initiative. Is this the right way to do it? Our argument is no, they got it wrong again."

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