Politics & Government

Prop 19 defeated, California pot grower vows to try again

Oakland marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee said Wednesday that his bankroll is depleted and the next California pot legalization measure may have to depend on other donors.

But in an interview, Lee said he's determined that marijuana will be on the California ballot again in 2012 despite the defeat of Proposition 19.

Lee, who founded Oakland's renowned pot trades school, Oaksterdam University, and heads a network including a medical marijuana dispensary, nursery and media company, donated $1.3 million to qualify Proposition 19 for the ballot and another $200,000 to the election campaign.

"We just need to do some research and see why people voted 'no,'" Lee said after the initiative lost by a 54 to 46 percent just weeks after polls showed California voters poised to legalize marijuana for recreational use. "We did get more votes than (gubernatorial candidate) Meg Whitman. And she spent more than $140 million. We need to look at the bright side."

Lee said Proposition 19 showed that Californians increasingly support legalizing marijuana but "just didn't like the details of the initiative."

Proposition 19 would have legalized possession of an once or more of marijuana and permitted small household cultivation for adults over 21. It would have allowed cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales - but specified no taxes. Yet while Prop 19 went down to defeat, voters approved more than a dozen local California measures calling for marijuana taxes.

In a statement he put out on election night, Lee vowed that "we will be coming back, stronger than ever" with a redrafted pot legalization measure in 2012.

He notably credited the early momentum of the Proposition 19 campaign for convincing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation that reduced simple marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a $100 fine. "It was a clear concession to the power of the legalization movement and a recognition of the obvious failure of our marijuana laws," Lee said in his statement.

This morning, he said Proposition 19 was "a great building point" for the next California marijuana legalization campaign. Lee said said the effort - which received a late $1 million contribution this year from billionaire fund manager and philanthropist George Soros - won't have to wait for donors the next time around.

As for Lee and his marijuana enterprises, he doesn't figure to be writing the same volume of checks.

"That was our savings for many years," he said. "We don't have the same nest egg to spend."