Campaigning On The Cheap, Prop 19 Still Builds Buzz

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Pro-legalization activist Richard Lee i

Pro-legalization activist Richard Lee, shown speaking at a news conference, contributed $1.5 million to help get Proposition 19, which he co-wrote, on California's ballot. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Pro-legalization activist Richard Lee

Pro-legalization activist Richard Lee, shown speaking at a news conference, contributed $1.5 million to help get Proposition 19, which he co-wrote, on California's ballot.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California's Proposition 19 appears to be the exception to the rule that a ballot initiative needs several million dollars for expensive TV and radio buys to reach the state's 17 million voters.

Neither side in the battle over legalizing marijuana is raising or spending a lot of cash. And Proposition 19 is still getting plenty of "buzz" among voters.

Polls show the measure has plenty of name recognition. Nearly 9 out of 10 California voters know what Proposition 19 is all about. It would allow adults to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess up to an ounce. It also would authorize cities and counties to tax and regulate commercial cultivation and retail sales of pot.

The Grass-Roots Level

At the headquarters of the Yes on Prop 19 campaign in downtown Oakland, volunteers are logging about 6,000 phone calls a day to likely voters.

"Basically it's a grass-roots campaign, no pun intended," says Sasha Horwitz, the pro-legalization campaign's new media coordinator.

"We're utilizing all the excitement on college campuses. On the Internet, we've got a Facebook group with over 200,000 fans. We're almost at 210,000. We're partnering with blogs that also have their own virtual phone banking tools," Horowitz says.

Horowitz calls it a high-tech, low-capital campaign. The pro-marijuana side has raised less than $3 million, much of it spent on the petition drive that got Proposition 19 on the ballot. But that's still 10 times more than the funds anti-Proposition 19 forces have raised.

"It is a low-dollar campaign ... a lot of what we're trying to do right now is do it on the cheap, I guess," says Roger Salazar, spokesman for a group called Public Safety First, which is backed primarily by law enforcement organizations and the California Chamber of Commerce.

"Money aside, it's a very ... sexy issue for a lot of the media, so the interviews that we've been doing on radio, television and the print media have been nonstop for the last couple of months," Salazar says.

The Lack Of Big Money

Salazar and other election experts say most campaign dollars are getting soaked up in the high-profile races for governor and the U.S. Senate, not to mention a half-dozen controversial ballot initiatives on taxes and climate change.

"All the other propositions on the ballot have some big money, big financial interests behind them. That's not the case with Prop 19 — we don't have a well-established marijuana industry in California," says Kim Alexander, who directs the California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works on democracy and technology issues.

Supporters of Proposition 19 say taxing recreational marijuana could bring $1 billion into California's coffers.

But no one is counting the money yet.

For one thing, the federal government could crack down hard if Proposition 19 passes. The Justice Department, which essentially has given medical marijuana a free pass in California, is not expected to do the same for recreational pot.



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