But state-level and national marijuana activists have never been able to coordinate their resources for a sustained campaign supporting a single, co-written ballot initiative, which is why the initial measure passing medical marijuana in 1996 was so vaguely worded, why the pro-legalization measure in 2010 went down in defeat, and why no measures made the ballot in 2012 and 2014.
Though voters in 24 states are able to pass legislation through ballot initiatives, California has always been the biggest, and therefore the most expensive for activists when it comes to gathering signatures and drumming up support. Despite the populist rhetoric around the direct democracy of a ballot initiative, special interests and deep pocketed donors have always controlled the proposition process in California. And so most of the infighting over legalizing pot comes down to a single problem: If you want to pass a ballot initiative in California, you need the support of the billionaires. Not every marijuana activist is polished or pragmatic enough to earn the confidence of the big-money benefactors.
The activists with access to major donors only want to deploy their millions if they’re going to win, so they rely on polls and focus groups when deciding how many plants should be legal for a patient to grow at home or whether individual counties will be able to opt out of recreational weed. Everyone else refuses to compromise and therefore lacks the funding necessary to get their initiatives passed.