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Proposition 19 Loses in California

Daily Dose 2010-11-03 0 comments

By Matthew T. Hall |

Originally published November 2, 2010 at 7:09 p.m., updated November 3, 2010 at 12:20 a.m.

Proposition 19 supporters met in Hillcrest one recent Saturday before spreading out across the city and trying to build support for the measure that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use. Charlie Neuman

Proposition 19 supporters met in Hillcrest one recent Saturday before spreading out across the city and trying to build support for the measure that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use. Charlie Neuman

California voters rejected Proposition 19, the initiative that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use statewide.

Fourteen years after approving marijuana for medical purposes, the state’s voters refused to make it legal for anyone 21 or older to grow, possess and use small amounts of pot. Possession would have been limited to less than an ounce, and cultivation to 25 square feet of private land, but marijuana would have remained illegal under federal law.

The measure would have allowed local governments to regulate and tax the commercial production, distribution and sale of pot to adults. Sales to minors would have been illegal, as would have possession on school grounds, use in public settings or smoking while minors are present.

It was being defeated by a wide margin late Tuesday night when none other than Gil Kerlikowske, the White House’s drug policy director, weighed in.

E-mailed by a spokesman, Kerlikowske’s two-sentence statement on Proposition 19 said: “Today, Californians recognized that legalizing marijuana will not make our citizens healthier, solve California’s budget crisis, or reduce drug related violence in Mexico. The Obama Administration has been clear in its opposition to marijuana legalization because research shows that marijuana use is associated with voluntary treatment admissions for addiction, fatal drugged driving accidents, mental illness, and emergency room admissions.”

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, who helped spearhead local opposition to Proposition 19, said people worried about what message it would send to their children and found fault with the way the measure was crafted.

“When people really looked at it, I think that they saw that the promises that it made to tax and regulate and control really were deceptive,” she said. “It doesn’t tax, it doesn’t regulate and it doesn’t control. It leaves it up to all the many, 400-plus local governments, at their own cost, to do that.”

Marsha Saben, board chairwoman of Californians for Drug Free Youth and a resident of unincorporated El Cajon, was grateful.

“That is a very, very strong indication that Californians have awakened to the problems of legalizing marijuana,” she said. “I think for too long, marijuana has been equated as nothing more than a can of beer in the minds of many.”

She added: “We know that this is just the beginning. The drug legalizers aren’t going away. They will continue on their mission, as will we, but we understand now the importance of getting out the message to everyone about the consequences of marijuana.”

Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Alex Kreit, who pushed for Proposition 19 at several public forums before Tuesday’s vote, said even in defeat, the results show that “people are realizing that the war on marijuana and the war on drugs is a failed strategy. We’ve been pursuing it for 40 years and marijuana is just as available now as it was 40 years ago.”

He spent election night in Oakland, the center of the marijuana legalization effort. It became the epicenter because the proponents’ largest donor was Richard Lee, who founded the marijuana trade school Oaksterdam University in 2007 and has worked to end cannabis prohibition for 17 years.

“It has become pretty clear that it’s not a question of if a state is going to legalize marijuana in the near future, it’s just when,” Kreit said.

“I would be very surprised if we don’t see it on the ballot in one state and probably a handful in 2012,” he said. Whether one of those states is California remains to be seen, he said.

Voters in Arizona, Oregon and South Dakota weighed in on medical marijuana ballot measures Tuesday, and more than 70 Massachusetts municipalities voted on resolutions calling for that state’s government to back medical marijuana or end prohibition altogether.

California’s Proposition 19 was the most closely watched marijuana measure nationwide and likely among the most followed of any measure. A Gallup poll released Thursday found that 46 percent of Americans — a new high — favor legalizing marijuana use and a new low of 50 percent opposed to it. Support is up 10 points and opposition down 10 points since 2006.

Ten California cities voted Tuesday on local ballot measures that would have allowed them to tax recreational marijuana if Proposition 19 passed. They included Berkeley, Long Beach, Oakland, Sacramento, San Jose and Stockton. On the other side of the spectrum, Morro Bay had a measure that would have banned medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

In a Proposition 19 campaign heavy on media coverage but low on paid advertising, supporters argued that it would control cannabis like alcohol, generate billions of dollars of revenue for a state in fiscal turmoil and let law enforcement focus on violent crime. Their website and signs showed a shining sun instead of a cannabis leaf.

Critics contended that it would create a confusing patchwork of laws from city to city, encourage more youngsters to smoke pot and make roadways more dangerous. The opposition campaign’s website prominently displayed a crushed car alongside a school bus lying on its side. It was the first image a visitor saw.

Both campaigns highlighted the measure’s effect on drug cartels, with supporters saying it would drain a major source of their profits and opponents saying it would make them more deadly.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a letter circulated by the measure’s opponents that if it passed, federal officials would vigorously enforce federal laws that make marijuana illegal.

Holder’s comments on Proposition 19 came with three weeks left in the campaign, just days before Mexican officials announced the largest pot bust in the history of Baja California — nearly 296,000 pounds of seized marijuana.

At the time, the measure had attracted fewer campaign contributions than any other California ballot measure, according to an analysis by the California Voter Foundation.

Then billionaire philanthropist George Soros donated $1 million to the Yes on Proposition 19 campaign in its final week, boosting its take to more than $3 million and allowing it to outspend the “no” side nearly 10-to-1.

As supporters began airing a television ad, opponents turned to the cadre of politicians who came out in opposition to the measure. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein lashed out at the measure at a Los Angeles rally the Friday before the election.

One late ad aired by the “no on 19” side ended, “Wow. Maybe the proponents should have waited to celebrate until after they’d written the legal language.”

September polls showed the initiative gaining support among likely voters, but more recent surveys portrayed a more skeptical public, with opponents outnumbering supporters by a significant margin.

Pollster Nate Silver began ascribing “The Broadus Effect” to such results, saying voters might be disinclined to tell a pollster they favor legalizing the drug. It was a reference to Calvin Broadus, more popularly known as Snoop Dogg, a rapper and celebrity known to smoke a lot of pot.

Days before the election, proponents said the measure could muster enough support, in part because of a focus on turning out the vote among young, college-age voters. Indeed, San Diego college campuses were primary targets for Proposition 19 supporters in the campaign’s waning days.

And the campaign’s consultants touted the measure’s 225,000 Facebook followers, noting it was more than any other political issue or candidate in California had amassed.

The mood at the local Yes on Proposition 19 headquarters was subdued as the evening progressed. Ben Cisneros, one of the regional field directors for the campaign, declined comment.

source: Proposition 19 supporters met in Hillcrest one recent Saturday before spreading out across the city and trying to build support for the measure that would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana use. Charlie Neuman