The November Election And Beyond

November 3 – Voters rejected California’s path-breaking marijuana legalization initiative Proposition 19 by 46% – 54%.

Prop 19 did better than any previous marijuana legalization initiative, beating out a Nevada initiative that scored 44% in 2006. It was hurt by an unfavorable voting turnout in a strongly conservative off-year-election. Contrary to hopes, a large youth vote did not materialize.

Prop 19 broke new ground in the marijuana debate. Opponents conceded that legalization might be an attractive policy, but argued successfully that the propostion was poorly written and would not be able to achieve its promised results.

The initiative’s promise of taxing and regulating marijuana took a serious hit when Attorney General Holder threatened to oppose Prop 19 in court, thereby making it unlikely that the state would realize any actual tax revenues in the short run.

Opponents also took aim at a provision banning discrimination against marijuana users, falsely alleging that it would jeopardize workplace safety by banning drug testing.

California NORML had supported Prop 19 despite reservations about the wording and timing of the initiative. Many marijuana supporters opposed the initiative for reasons ranging from principled opposition to its restrictive wording, to largely misguided concerns that it would undo existing rights under Prop. 215, to fear by growers that it would cut off black-market profits.

Fears of economic impact appear to have depressed support in California’s pot-growing Emerald Triangle of Mendocino (47%), Humboldt (47%), and Trinity Counties (40%), all of which rejected Prop 19.

Prop 19 scored best in San Francisco (65%), Santa Cruz (64%), Marin (62%), Alpine (60%) and Alameda (55%) counties; it was rejected narrowly in Los Angeles (47%) and San Diego (47%). Other counties that approved Prop 19 were: SLO, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Sonoma, Monterey, and Mono.

“It’s not a question of whether marijuana will be legalized, but when and how,” said Cal NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer. “The Prop 19 campaign deserves credit for putting legalization on the map, and for attracting important new allies to the movement. This campaign has shown there is an emerging majority for legalization in California. However, it remains to be seen whether an initiative can be written that could attract majority support given the obstacles of federal opposition.

“Regardless of Prop 19, it’s important to remember that marijuana remains firmly legal for medical purposes in California. California would do well to firm up its current system of medical marijuana distribution. The legislature should clean up and expand existing laws permitting sales, distribution and cultivation, which are vague and confusing for collectives and law enforcement alike.

“Above all, the federal government needs to address its own bankrupt laws against medical marijuana. It is untenable for the Justice Department to maintain a policy of not enforcing its own laws against medical marijuana in states where it’s legal; the laws themselves need to change. A petition to reschedule marijuana for medical use has been pending before the DEA for eight years; it’s time for the Obama administration to respond. If the government can’t get medical marijuana right, it’s hard to see how it can manage national health care efficiently.”

Voters overwhelmingly approved measures to tax medical marijuana in several California cities (Berkeley, San Jose, Richmond, Oakland, Sacramento, La Puente, Albany and Stockton), and rejected dispensary bans in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay.

UPDATE 11/14: Arizona voters narrowly approved their medical marijuana Proposition 203.

Medical marijuana measures fared poorly elsewhere in the country: voters in South Dakota rejected an initiative to legalize medical marijuana, and Oregon turned down a proposal to allow medical marijuana distributions centers. Voters in several Colorado towns elected to ban dispensaries.

Eighteen Massachusetts towns approved non-binding ballot measures for the legalization of medical marijuana.

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