The one glaring exception is Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state. Groups for and against the measure spent more than $83 million, a national record for a ballot measure on a social issue.
In the pot debate, both sides have relied on media attention rather than brimming campaign chests to get their messages out. The approach seems to be working.
In a recent Field Poll, 84 percent of respondents said they had heard of Proposition 19, compared to under 40 percent for other major measures on the ballot Nov. 2.
Missing are the big advertising campaigns and media events that generated heat around past ballot measures.
"People have strong feelings about this. They're not easily swayed. TV adverstising doesn't have as big an effect, pro or con," Lee said.
Recent polling does suggest that many likely voters have made up their minds: Fewer than 10 percent of likely voters said they were undecided on Proposition 19, according to the most recent Field and Public Policy Institute of California polls. The measure was ahead in both polls.
Still, supporters are faced with the irony of having little funding for a measure billed as a money-maker for California.
Absent have been contributions from the deep-pocketed donors who underwrote the successful 1996 campaign to pass Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana in California.