For those wondering what's going to happen with the crowded field of proposals to legalize cannabis in California this year, look no further than an independent source of information with boots on the ground: paid signature-gatherers. Thousands of these mercenaries have fanned out across the Golden State this April, earning an estimated $2.50 per signature to help place pot legalization on the ballot.
I ran into a man named Alan, a paid signature-gatherer from Vallejo, in the BART's Embarcadero Station last week. Alan said voters are ready to legalize it.
He didn't want to give me his last name because he didn't have his employer's permission to speak to the press, but the self-described veteran signature-gatherer of eight years — four California election cycles — had plenty of insight into how voters will lean this November.
Despite twenty-three different legalization proposals on file with the state, paid gatherers in California are now working on one initiative — the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). It's almost certain that the initiatives sponsors will file enough signatures to qualify it for the ballot by the state's final deadline, April 26.
Alan has been gathering signatures for AUMA for five weeks, focusing on BART stations in Oakland and San Francisco. "It's uncanny the amount of people that have signed this marijuana one," he said.
Alan said voters want to hear about the economic benefits and tax revenue legalization will create. "It's enormous," he said. AUMA "has the most pull" for voters, alongside proposals to help public schools and raise the minimum wage. He said AUMA will make the ballot "easily."
It comes down to simple dollars for paid signature gathering. "Every initiative that I've run since 2008 has gotten it. There's no petition that doesn't get on the ballot," he said.
The backers of AUMA have reported $3 million in campaign donations, including $500,000 on April 1. They've also certified to the state that they've collected 25 percent of the 365,880 total signatures they need. No other legalization group has matched this fundraising prowess or signature gathering goal.
Alan buries the AUMA initiative sixth in his stack of ballot propositions that he gets people to sign. He puts on top the initiative with the highest bounty per signature. Signatures fetch different bounties — the more controversial or late the initiative, the higher the signature bounty. AUMA isn't paying any special premium for signatures because it is not considered controversial, nor is it running late.
Alan's foot soldier-eye view squares with other data points. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act's rivals appear to be out of time and money. For example, the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act gained the last-minute support of Oakland author and celebrity pot grower Ed Rosenthal on March 25. Rosenthal called AUMA's flavor of legalization too strict and compared it to legalization in Washington versus Colorado.
"Don't be like Washington, let's be like Colorado. Sign and vote for MCLR," he told Legalization Nation. MCLR is hoping patients download, print, and mail in the needed 365,880 signatures by an April 20 deadline (technically the deadline is April 26). But MCLR is running out of time, said Dave Hodges from the MCLR campaign. And MCLR has no cash to pay for last-minute gatherers.
"It's the cannabis community," he said. "It has a really hard time getting everything together."
Another rival initiative, the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative, is also using volunteer signature-gatherers, but it has not passed the 25 percent signature threshold yet.
Eight of the other 23 pot legalization initiatives approved to circulate for this election have already failed to gather enough signatures by their 180-day deadline.
Assuming AUMA makes the ballot alone, professional pollster Ben Tulchin — whose Tulchin Research clients include Bernie Sanders — said that the odds for California legalization will be up from 50-50 in November, to 55-45. And that's thanks to unlikely ally: The Donald.
"If Donald Trump becomes the Republican nominee for president, which is the most likely outcome at this point, that will benefit progressive candidates and causes around the country as it would likely lead to the progressive base being very motivated and coming out to vote in large numbers while the conservative base would be dispirited," Tulchin wrote me in a statement Monday. "This dynamic would definitely benefit a marijuana legalization measure in California."
Alan is also bullish on AUMA passing. "I want to say that it's going to pass, which is my professional opinion," he said. Alan said even tepid supporters who decline to sign the petition are showing signs thy will vote for AUMA this fall. "They'll end up voting for it then as well because they're going to look at the revenue Colorado is making, they're going to look at the revenue Washington State is making, and Oregon."
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