Legalization Initiative Prop. 19 on November Ballot

The Control and Tax Cannabis initiative to legalize marijuana for adult use in California will appear on the November 2nd ballot as Proposition 19.

Coincidentally, this was the number of the original California Marijuana Initiative of 1972, the first-ever marijuana decriminalization initiative. The CMI fell short with 33% of the vote but set the stage for California’s landmark decriminalization law, the Moscone Act, in 1975. (A vintage poster for the 1972 initiative is shown at left.)

This year’s Prop 19 has picked up key endorsements from labor and civil rights advocates. The California chapter of the NAACP announced its “unconditional support” for the initiative, citing a study for the Drug Policy Alliance by Prof. Harry Levine showing that blacks are disproportionately arrested for marijuana offenses in every one of California’s 25 largest counties.

Overall, blacks are 332% as likely as whites to be arrested for marijuana and five times as likely to be imprisoned. “We have empirical proof that the application of the marijuana laws has been unfairly applied to our young people of color,” declared NAACP President Alice Huffman, “Justice is the quality of being just and fair and these laws have been neither just nor fair. “

The initiative has also picked up support from labor unions, beginning with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5, which recently organized 100 cannabis workers in Oaksterdam. The Communications Workers of America Local 9415 also endorsed the initiative, citing a California NORML report that legalization could create some 60,000 to 110,000 new jobs.

The city councils of Oakland and Berkeley have also unanimously endorsed the initiative, which would give their cities the power to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for adult use as called for in previously approved local ordinances.

Polls show a tight race in the offing. A campaign poll by EMC Research, Inc. found that likely voters favored the initiative by 51% to 40%. Another poll by KPIX news found support for legalizing at 56%-42%. Yet another by the Public Policy Institute found just 49%-48% support. An LA Times/USC poll found the initiative leading by a shaky majority of 49% - 41%, with one-third of supporters having reservations. Support is highest among Democrats and youth, while opposition is strongest among Republicans, the elderly, and those who have never tried marijuana.

“The good news for proponents is that they are starting off with a decent lead,” said Dan Schnur, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, “The good news for the opposition is that initiatives that start off at less than 50% in the polls usually have a hard time.”

See CalNORML's analysis of the initiative.