Prop. 64 owns big advantage, but don't get overconfident

Submitted by: R.E. Graswich

Baseball has hits and runs, football has touchdowns, field goals and safeties. In politics, there are two ways to keep score -- votes and money. Typically, you can't get one without the other.

The money scoreboard for Prop. 64, the recreational marijuana initiative on the Nov. 8 California ballot, looks like a romp for the Yes side.

Heading into September, the Yes on Prop. 64 team was awash with dollars. Its campaign account was bursting with about $6.567 million. The No side had gathered a mere $229,000, barely enough to fund a city council race in a mid-sized town, much less a statewide campaign.

With recent polls showing Prop. 64 receiving support from about 60 percent of likely California voters, it would appear adult-use cannabis is finally headed toward legalization in the nation's largest state, 20 years after medical marijuana was approved by voters.

But polls and dollars can be deceptive. While Prop. 64 proponents have every reason to feel optimistic and in control, the personal nature of cannabis and its controversial cultural history makes voter acceptance of recreational marijuana anything but automatic.

The opposition clearly lacks the financial firepower of Prop. 64 advocates such as venture capitalist Sean Parker, who has contributed $2.32 million to promote the initiative. No matter how much money the No on Prop. 64 side raises, the Yes team will raise (and spend) more.

But persuasive and credible public figures -- including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and law enforcement groups -- have loudly opposed the adult-use initiative.

Moreover, around 250 California cities, backed by many county boards of supervisors, recently enacted cannabis prohibitions, ranging from outdoor cultivation and distribution restrictions to comprehensive bans of all marijuana products.

These locally elected officials may not personally contribute to the No on Prop. 64 campaign, but they are influential among their constituents and are certainly making their feelings known around town.

Opponents are focusing their arguments on four key areas: exposure to children, under-regulated advertising, negative impacts on minority communities and the lack of objective measurements to establish driving under the influence.

Additionally, there's concern expressed by many legacy and independent growers that Prop. 64 will allow the California cannabis industry to become dominated by global conglomerates.

Collectively, the arguments provide significant ammunition to provoke reluctance among voters.

Proponents are fixated on a singular argument: This time, we've got it right.

The big question is, with limited resources, can Prop. 64 opponents spread their message across the state, or will their message spread organically? For Prop. 64 advocates, September is far too early to celebrate.