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Will California Legalize Pot?

With only a few months to go until the election, the campaign to legalize marijuana in California has only $50,000 in cash on hand. The question now is: How can it win?

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Yet Lee admits that "everything is on track, except fund-raising." The campaign currently has $50,000 in cash. While the campaign has talked to the major funders of other marijuana measures throughout the country -- people like Peter Louis, George Soros, Bob Wilson, and John Sperling -- none have committed funding yet. All of these men contributed  between $1 million and $2 million each to Prop. 5, the failed 2008 measure that sought to reform sentencing for drug-related offenses. A big question remains unanswered: Why are these Prop. 5 donors not funding Prop. 19?

Their non-involvement may be why Garzon says the campaign "can certainly do a lot with a little." Prop. 19 has not yet planned for a mass media campaign, which costs a lot of money. For example, a statewide TV ad buy for a political candidate in California costs about  $1 million per week. That's a daunting figure and so Tax Cannabis will instead be stressing one-to-one public education, which will take the form of door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and town-hall meetings. 

"We don't think we need [a mass media campaign] to win. It depends on our budget -- if we have room for it, we will," Garzon says. "People are interested enough that we find the person-to-person interaction to be very successful. When you answer their questions, they're very supportive."

The Prop. 19 campaign will rely heavily on volunteers. Though the campaign hasn't yet put out an official appeal, 2,600 people have already signed on. Many thousands more are expected to comprise the complete army of volunteers, who will have to learn how to craft talking points that appeal to different kinds of on-the-fence Californians. 

Already the campaign has some idea of what those talking points will be. A town-hall meeting in Mendocino County gave Garzon an opportunity to see what resonated with voters there. The event was billed as "Life After Legalization," and speakers framed the passing of Prop. 19 as an opportunity to become "the Napa Valley of cannabis," Garzon said. By the end of the meeting, a union man had inspired attendees to chant, "Organize! Organize!"

For Jerome Urías-Cantú, a law student at Stanford, the key issue is border safety. In a fund-raising appeal sent out to Prop. 19's mailing list, he wrote about a cousin who lived in Ciudad Juárez, just miles from the California border, who was killed in the escalating drug war in Mexico. "Oscar had nothing to do with the drug trade, but he was shot and killed nonetheless," Urías-Cantú wrote. "That's why I support the reform of California's cannabis laws. The measure will prevent needless deaths by reducing the profitability of the drug trade and putting the violent drug cartels out of business." (The Office of National Drug Control Policy  estimates that Mexican cartels receive 60 percent of their revenue from marijuana sales in the United States.)

Lance Rogers, a volunteer regional director based in San Diego, believes that besides the border issues, people in his area will be interested in economic arguments for Prop. 19. "San Diego -- like the state -- is in a major fiscal crisis. We have an extreme budget deficit due to pension problems," he says.

And as a criminal defense attorney, Rogers has met others like him who "see the effects of an overly punitive criminal justice system on marijuana offenses. I see people go to prison for five or seven years for sales of less than an ounce of marijuana. Granted, these are folks who have prior felonies or other things going on, but the fact is that this person is going to prison for $75,000 a year for doing what Prop. 19 would legalize."

Priscilla A. Pyrk, the regional director for the Inland Empire and the owner of a medical marijuana collective, thinks dispelling stereotypes about cannabis consumers and entrepreneurs will be important, too. "The cannabis industry needs to revamp how people perceive this industry and its users," Pyrk says. "That's why it's great that we have a lot of non-traditional cannabis consumers coming on board. They're coming out of the closet! Doctors, lawyers, businessmen are coming out and standing up for the initiative."