Skip to content

Prop 19’s blowback for marijuana in California

November 6, 2010

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 12:  Medical marijuana a...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Sasha Abramsky  Sasha Abramsky.

Saturday 6 November 2010 15.00 GMT

Marijuana legalisation supporters had high hopes, yet Prop 19 went up in smoke. Then again, pot is already so easy to get.

After months of riding high, support for Proposition 19, the ballot initiative that would have legalised marijuana in the state of California, evaporated in the final weeks before the 2 November midterm elections. On election day, it went down to a nearly nine point defeat.

While high-profile supporters of the legalisation effort immediately declared that they would try again in 2012, the legalisation movement has clearly suffered a serious setback. In all likelihood, the defeat of Prop 19 has put a stop to a fascinating citizens’ movement to bulldoze, at a state level, one of the central pillars of the ill-conceived federal “war on drugs”.

The question is, why did its support crater in the final weeks?

It certainly wasn’t for lack of money: the billionaire philanthropist George Soros poured over $1m into the “yes” campaign over the final weeks; Richard Lee, the pot-promoting founder of “Oaksterdam University”, a center for the study of pot cultivation in downtown Oakland, put in even larger sums; many luminaries of the liberal-leaning computing and social networking industries also kicked in serious money.

Conventional wisdom has it that US Attorney General Eric Holder’s statement about how the Feds would draw a line in the sand, and use taxes paid on marijuana transactions as evidence of laws being broken, shattered its support. That might well be part of the reason for the polling decline in the weeks leading up to the election. It served to put a break on the “yes” campaign’s momentum. But it doesn’t fully explain the election night numbers themselves.

By my reckoning, it’s an incomplete explanation for two reasons. First, in this election cycle, none of the statements emanating from the White House and the surrounding administration appeared to impact voters in any pro-active way. Even in California, which bucked the national trend by voting solidly in favour of a Democratic slate, disillusionment with DC politics is a potent force. It’s unlikely that one in four pro-Prop 19 supporters withdrew their support on election night simply because the administration in DC asked them to. Second, so few people, especially the younger people who were thought to be the backbone of Proposition 19’s support, are reading the newspapers or watching the serious news shows anymore that it is doubtful many of them were aware of Holder’s position one way or the other – or, indeed, of who Holder even is.

And, while California’s two main gubernatorial candidates, Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman, as well as the US Senate candidates, the contenders for the state attorney general’s office, and other senior elected figures came out against the notion of legalised marijuana via the initiative process, the advertising campaign for the “no” camp was half-hearted at best. In an election season in which Meg Whitman threw nigh on $150m into a vanity production that went nowhere, the big bucks were not flung into an anti-marijuana campaign. In fact, much of the money flowing into adverts was from the “yes” camp. Additionally, many unions supported the measure, as did a number of civil rights groups and law enforcement organisations representing police officers of colour.

Rare in a political season dominated by conservative special interest groups and business lobbies, this wasn’t one of those elections skewed in a more conservative direction by a tsunami of rightwing, big-business money. And that’s probably because many businesses, in fact, would, behind the scenes, likely have been quite happy to have a new, legalised narcotic market to tap into. They weren’t about to come out firing all guns in favour of legalisation; but neither were they going to go all-out to defeat the initiative.

So, what went wrong for Prop 19 in the end?

To start with, Governor Schwarzenegger essentially neutralised the issue a month before the election by signing a law rendering personal possession of pot less than a misdemeanor – turning it into an “infraction” – akin to a parking ticket – one that no longer leaves a person with a criminal record. The action delighted marijuana advocates, and was widely publicised statewide. With medical marijuana already legal and so widely available that many parts of Oakland, Berkeley and Los Angeles now look like Amsterdam, dotted with barely disguised pot cafes, and with anybody willing to pony up a couple of hundred dollars able to get a “medical marijuana recommendation” from self-styled “kush doctors” many Californians already felt their access to pot was safe and secure. Schwarzenegger’s action furthered them in this belief. So, despite the hopes of Prop 19’s supporters, people weren’t inspired to come out to vote just because a legalisation initiative was on the ballot.

Following on from this, voter turnout in California was utterly dismal – as it has been for the past several midterm elections in the state. While absentee ballots are still being counted, turnout appears to be somewhere in the 50% range for registered voters, and well under that as a percentage of the total adult citizen population.

The legalisation campaign was banking on a surge of participation from young voters and others on the periphery of the political process, people who don’t always have the best voter participation record. To win, Prop 19 needed to bring out non-traditional voters, in much the same way as the Obama campaign succeeded in doing in 2008. Instead, they sat the 2010 elections out.

See original posting:

Enhanced by Zemanta
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: