The field of marijuana initiatives for California's November ballot has been cut in half in just the past few days, leaving proponents of the two remaining measures in a narrower race for money and momentum while other drug advocates say the next presidential election in 2016 offers a greater chance for success.
The ballot measures no longer in contention include an initiative by the Drug Policy Alliance, a well-financed national group that led the successful 1996 campaign to legalize medical marijuana in California.
Representatives of the group confirmed they had pulled their initiative, because of the need for more time to consult with elected officials, public health leaders and law enforcement.
On Tuesday, in the wake of that news, prominent marijuana activist and grower Ed Rosenthal announced that he was abandoning his ballot measure this year and joining a growing coalition in support of putting forward a "winnable" initiative in 2016.
Rosenthal conceded that political jockeying among marijuana advocates had played a part in his decision to enter the fray of measures looking to legalize recreational marijuana in the Golden State, after voters in Washington and Colorado did so in 2012.
"I didn't have to get mine on the ballot, I just had to put in enough effort to make it difficult for the (Drug Policy Alliance) to get on the ballot," Rosenthal said.
Backers of the two remaining initiatives, meanwhile, voiced hope that the smaller field left them more room to maneuver for money and supporters.
"With them (the Drug Policy Alliance) out, the rest of us have a better chance of getting through," said Bob Bowerman, Sacramento executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML. "We're going to win this year," he said.
His group is supporting the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act, sponsored by the nonprofit advocacy group Americans For Policy Reform. The measure would legalize limited amounts of marijuana for personal use, cultivation, transportation, purchase or donation, allow hemp cultivation and tax nonmedical marijuana sales. Under the MCLR Act, a new entity called the Cannabis Control Commission would be created for regulation.
The main proponent of the other proposed initiative still in the running is Berton Duzy of the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative. Duzy said he intends to go ahead with his plan, which would legalize marijuana and hemp use, cultivation, possession, distribution and transportation. "It's good news DPA pulled out," he said, noting that there was "no way" he would abandon his efforts.
"People who supported them might now support us," he added.
None of the proposals have qualified for the ballot. To do so, the proponents of each need to gather 504,760 valid signatures of registered voters.
The decisions by the Drug Policy Alliance and Rosenthal to withdraw follow a move by another national reform group to steer clear of California in 2014. Officials with the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest marijuana reform organization in the country, have stated that they think 2016 offers a better chance for success at the ballot box.
Presidential elections typically draw a higher voter turnout, making them a prime window for those seeking to enact law through California's initiative process. In 2012, the last presidential election, California voter turnout was 79.4 percent, up from 59.6 percent in 2010, a gubernatorial election year, the California Secretary of State reported. In the presidential election of 2008, turnout was 79.4 percent, up from 56.2 percent in 2006.