While states like Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska celebrated their state’s legalization of recreational marijuana during the weekend of 4/20 festivities, California’s Secretary of State received paperwork for “The Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2016,” an initiative that will be put to state voters next year to allow citizens to legally purchase marijuana without a prescription. Two other, similar initiatives have also been filed in the state, though it will require millions of dollars to fund what is sure to be a long and embittered campaign to legalize marijuana in California. Thankfully, the effort has just received one of the largest — if not the largest — financial contributions from a single source.
On April 17, CEO of WeedMaps — a sort of Yelp for weed — Justin Hartfield, announced that he is donating $2 million to California’s effort to legalize marijuana. The first million will go to Californians For Sensible Reform, and an additional million to Californians For Sensible Reform PAC.
“We’re doing it because legal adult use of marijuana is inevitable. California has always been an innovator and we’re falling behind other states,” Hartfield told The San Francisco Chronicle Friday. “We wanted to do it to make a statement that we’re serious about this.”
Despite lowering penalties for possession of an ounce of marijuana down to a misdemeanor in 1975, and from a misdemeanor to a $100 fine in 2010, California has never been able to gather the necessary votes to fully legalize recreational use of cannabis, which would allow for brick and mortar stores to sell to anyone over the age of 21. In the same year Governor Schwarzenegger reduced possession to a $100 fine, California voters were faced with Proposition 19, which was their opportunity to make weed fully legal in the state. Yet it was rejected by a narrow margin of 53 to 46.
Though support for legalization is at an all time high for among Californians, according to a survey by the Public Policy Institute of California released last month, which reported that “53 percent of residents say marijuana should be legal and 45 percent say it should not.” These numbers show a two percent increase in favorability since only October of last year.
Like most political endeavors, fundraising will surely play a key role in the effort to legalize marijuana in California. Last July Florida voters showed 88% approval for medical marijuana legalization, but by November’s election many had apparently changed their mind and the initiative failed — likely due to the $5.8 million donated to the opposition, 85% of which came from GOP bankroller Sheldon Adelson. With donors like Hartfield dumping large contributions into pro-cannabis efforts, California stands a much better chance of reforming their marijuana laws in 2016.
A board member of both NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project, Hartfield was described by Business Insider as “The First Venture Capitalist Of The Pot Industry.” After working for an SEO consultation company, Hartfield founded WeedMaps in 2008, which helps marijuana enthusiasts locate dispensaries in their area, as well as leave reviews for businesses and marijuana strains. Their iTunes app page proclaims WeedMaps to have a Userbase of over 640,000, and in 2014 Hartfield boasted to The San Francisco Chronicle that his business brings in “north of $25 million a year.”
Far from becoming an out-of-touch corporation, WeedMaps has maintained its relevance with youth culture while continuing to grow as a multi-million dollar business. On 4:20 last Monday, WeedMaps partnered with rapper Lil’ Wayne as the exclusive host for the debut of his music video “Hollyweezy” for four hours and twenty minutes, before being released nationally.
With deep cred and deep pockets, it’s likely that WeedMaps will end up being a game-changer for marijuana ballot initiatives in the years to come.
Photo Credit: Matt Biddulph