Marijuana Legalized in Two States: Will California Be Next?

UPDATED NOVEMBER 8, 2012

November 7 - Election day started strong for marijuana reformers when Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalize medical marijuana, with 63% in favor and just 37% opposed. Arkansas nearly passed its own medical marijuana law, in a surprisingly close race from a state that went to Romney.

As the polls closed in Colorado, all eyes were on that state as early returns indicated its adult use legalization measure would pass, 52-48%. And just as Obama clinched his re-election, the news came that Washington would be the second state to legalize marijuana for personal adult use, by a 56-44% margin.

Californians, who voted to keep the death penalty, voted overwhelmingly to reform the Three Strikes Your Out law, a model for laws across the country. Now non-violent felony drug offenses will not trigger a life sentence in California.

National polls have shown that a majority of Americans now favor marijuana legalization, with a recent poll from Huffington Post showing 59% in favor. “We have reached the tipping point,” said CalNORML Deputy Director Ellen Komp.

With money for TV ads, and silence from the Federal DOJ, Colorado and Washington had the advantage over California’s Prop. 19, which won 46% of the vote in 2010. Lessons learned and positive press from that effort contributed to 2012’s victories.

Talk in California has already turned to possible initiative campaigns in 2014 and/or 2016. CalNORML’s “Cannabis in California: Ending the 100 Year War” in San Francisco January 26 & 27 will focus on these efforts.

Washington’s measure had the support of all major newspapers and Rick Steves, the PBS travel host who’s been attending NORML conferences and speaking out for legalization. Colorado’s efforts built on the campaigns of the group SAFER, begun by then-college student Mason Tvert, as detailed in the book, “Marijuana is SAFER: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”

Colorado’s governor John Hickenlooper, a brewery owner, appeared in advertisements against the measure. After it passed, he said, "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will. This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through.” He added, “That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly."

Colorado’s “model” medical marijuana law, as reported on in a recent 60 Minutes episode, was another factor in their success.

The NIMBY backlash against medical marijuana in California continued, with a measure to allow dispensaries in Palo Alto (mounted by a former Reagan advisor) defeated, as were measures in four San Diego county cities. Del Mar, Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, and Solana Beach all voted in favor of Prop. 19 but local officials spoke out against allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in their towns.

Nonetheless, pro-medical marijuana candidates were top vote-getters in races for city councils in Del Mar (Sheryl Parks) and Lemon Grove (Racquel Vasquez and George Gastil). In Imperial Beach, Erika Lowery took only 12% of the vote, but Brian Pat Bilbray, who supported IB’s medical marijuana measure, prevailed with 19%.

The city of Needles voted 80%-20% to impose a 10% tax on marijuana businesses. A measure to tax over-consumption of electricity, aimed at grow houses in Arcata, carried with 72%. In 2010, all local taxation measures, medical and otherwise, were successful. Dunsmuir's attempt to repeal that city's ban on dispensaries failed to carry. That measure specifically allowed dispensaries near schools.

Across the state, marijuana reform supporters had mixed success at the ballot box. Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, whose opponent Ignacio de la Fuente sent out a hit piece slamming her support for Oaksterdam University, won 44% of the vote to De la Fuente’s 30%. Oakland’s city attorney Barbara Parker, who has sued the feds over their actions against the Harborside collective, won 68% of the vote.

San Diegans got some good news when Bob Filner, who has one of the strongest drug reform voting records in Congress, won the mayor’s race against the Carl DeMaio, who voted poorly on medical cannabis issues on city council. In the Los Angeles district attorney race, Jackie Lacey beat Alan Jackson 55-45; neither was particularly supportive of medical marijuana.

Robert Jacob of Peace in Medicine in Sebastopol was the top vote-getter (28%) in a five-way race for city council, and won a seat. But patient-turned-politician Rudy Reyes lost his bid for Santee mayor.

Congressional Results
Some hostile Republican Congressmembers appear to be losing in very close races, among them Dan Lungren, Mary Bono and Brian Bilbray. The outcomes may change after absentee ballots are counted. Democrat Lois Capps (Santa Barbara), who has been supportive, was re-elected over former Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonaro, who consistently opposed medical marijuana and drug reform while in the state legislature (except for supporting a hemp bill).

Alan Lowenthal, who had a good voting record on drug reform issues in the state Senate, won the Long Beach Congressional seat. In Los Angeles, Brad Sherman, who has co-sponsored medical cannabis reform bills, scored a decisive win over opponent Howard Berman. Democrat Julia Brownley, one of the few Assembly members to support Rep. Ammiano's marijuana cultivation decriminalization bill, won Ventura's Congressional seat handily over Republican Tony Strickland, who has a miserable voting record.

Democrat Jared Huffman, who voted well in the Assembly and deserves special credit for casting a key vote in favor of Tom Ammiano's 2009 legalization bill, won his North Coast seat with 70% of the votes. But Republican Doug LaMalfa, a consistent enemy of marijuana & drug reform in the State Senate and Assembly, took the northeast California seat.

State Assembly
Assemblyman Chris Norby, a Republican friend who took heat from law enforcement during his campaign, is losing his bid for election in the new 65th district by 1000 votes, with absentee and provisional ballots yet to be counted. Supporter Bill Quirk took the Hayward seat. Down south, Ruben Hernandez failed to win the La Mesa seat, but Toni Atkins clobbered her Republican opponent in Point Loma. Both were endorsed by the Patient Care Association.

Local Races
OCLA-endorsed Richard Valle won a supervisor seat in Alameda county. Long-time supporter Kriss Worthington lost to incumbent Tom Bates in the Berkeley mayor's race. In San Leandro, supporter Jim Prola was elected to city council.

In San Francisco, Eric Mar, who has been a stalwart supporter of medical cannabis, prevailed in the District 1 Supervisor's race. Supporters David Chiu took 75% of the vote to regain his Supervisor's seat in District 3. David Campos, another supporter, ran unchallenged in District 9. In District 5, incumbent Christina Olague and fellow supporters John Risso, Julian Davis, and Andrew Resignato all lost to London Breed. Ed Lee, who spoke out against the federal actions in SF, won the mayor's race.

Read about other California races.

In semi-related news, the city of Richmond defeated its penny-an-ounce tax on sugary drinks proposal by 67-33% after the beverage industry spent $2.5 million against it. A similar measure in El Monte was defeated by a 77-23% margin.

Medical marijuana laws in other states are more restrictive than in California. In Massachusetts, patients with a debilitating medical condition can now have a 60-day supply, the amount of which will be determined by the Department of Public Health. The new law will also allow for the approval of up to 35 non-profit medical marijuana treatment centers to grow, process and provide marijuana to patients or their caregivers (who are not permitted to consume marijuana).

Washington’s measure legalizes personal use for those 21 and over, does not allow for cultivation, and has a controversial provision establishing a per se standard for driving under the influence of THC. Colorado’s law allows for the legal possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six cannabis plants by those persons age 21 and over. Longer-term, the measure seeks to establish regulations governing the commercial production and distribution of marijuana by licensed retailers.

In Michigan, an estimated 65 percent of Detroit voters approved Measure M, which removes criminal penalties pertaining to the possession on private property of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults over age 21. In Montana, a referendum that sought to ease legislative restrictions on the state’s medical marijuana law also failed. Oregon’s Measure 80, which sought to allow for the state-licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults, garnered only 45 percent of the popular vote. Read more from National NORML.

Also see: Marijuana's Victory in Colorado, Washington Means California Will Follow Soon