By Dion Markgraaff
In November, the â€œLegalize itâ€ vote for Californiaâ€™s Prop. 19 lost 54% to 46%…The biggest battle in cannabis historyâ€™s long ongoing war. Our society failed to pass a proposition that would change Californiaâ€™s law to allow everyone to grow and consume cannabis throughout the state.
The historic vote came down to the referendum of common sense. A simple read of the government ballot question seemed like a no-brainer. The new law would pass because it would result in â€œpotential increased tax and fee revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually and potential correctional savings of several tens of millions of dollars annually.â€
The battle came down to the old guard versus the new guard. Old people and government institutions relied on old tricks by saying the measure was â€œconfusingâ€ and the Federal Government would not allow it. Right before the vote, the United States Attorney General Eric Holder said he would â€œvigorously enforceâ€ federal anti-cannabis laws (which are zero tolerance) when it came to recreational use, no matter what Californians decided. In the desire to represent the old guard, every major politician and newspaper in the entire state came out against Prop. 19. The new guard pinned their hopes on economic benefits of a tax and regulated cannabis industry. The â€œYesâ€ on Prop. 19 knew their best chances were to get young people out to vote â€“ the class of people who had the greatest percentage of support.
The failure to â€œlegalize itâ€ was due to those who showed up to the election booths. Voters 65
and older opposed it by more than 2 to 1. Support was strongest among voters between the ages of 18 and 24, who went for it with 64% to 36%. Voters between 25 and 29 narrowly backed it with 52% to 48%. But voters under 30 made up just 13% of the electorate. â€œYes on 19â€ had 219,000 Facebook fans compared to the 1,000 â€œNo on 19â€ fans, but that was obviously not enough.
The good news from this election is how much the paradigm has shifted. The entire discussion around legalizing cannabis has improved. A Newsweek study found more than 1,800 articles on the measure, a 50% increase over the coverage of Prop.Â 215 in 1996. The entire population across the United States has evolved from cannabis legalization as an impossible dream to most people believing it is only a matter of time until this plant is legal again. Many organizations are already preparing to campaign in the states of Washington, Colorado, and California to legalize it in the next campaign cycle in 2012.
The Prop. 19 campaign to get progressive people out to vote saved the stateâ€™s medical cannabis laws. It boosted the numbers for newly elected Attorney General Kamala Harris. This is the first woman to be the â€œtop copâ€ in the state, who is also pro-medical cannabis. Her opponent, Steve Cooley, is a crusader against the medical use of cannabis and would have killed patient access to this plant. The difference between the two was less than .5% â€“ one of the closest elections ever.
The campaign to vote â€œNoâ€ showed signs of Reefer Madness reform when they shifted their talking points from saying this plant is the â€œdevil weedâ€ and â€œhas no medical valueâ€ to â€œthis isnâ€™t the perfect billâ€ or the proposition was
â€œbadly wordedâ€ â€“ a classic. After the election, even the governator said that â€œno one cares if you smoke a joint or notâ€. Appearing on â€œThe Tonight Show with Jay Lenoâ€, Arnold Schwarzenegger said, â€œProposition 19 went a little bit too far, I think.â€ However, all the people who will be harassed and arrested over the next few years will certainly disagree. Schwarzenegger said his decision to sign a bill last month that reduces the charge for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a civil infraction hurt Prop. 19â€™s chances. If this was his motivation for helping him sign the bill (SB 1449) and take this progressive step forward, then this is another good thing the Prop. 19 campaign accomplished.
San Diego voted â€œYesâ€ at just under 47%, which was as big as L.A. and higher than the state average, and as much as most of Northern California counties.
The Bad – We are all the losers
Of course the bad news was that society lost and will continue to lose until cannabis prohibition ends. California is already the number one prison area in the whole world and it will continue to arrest thousands (over 70,000 last year) for cannabis every year.
Despite the huge economic crisis in California (a current deficit of over $25 billion), society will continue the war on cannabis that is very costly. In October, Californiaâ€™s CAMP (Campaign Against Marijuana Planting) reported 4,320,314 plant seizures in 2010, slightly less than the all-time record of 4,463,917 in 2009. The combination of economic power of the $14 billion dollar cannabis industry and the worldâ€™s eighth-largest economy, this historic opportunity would have had a huge impact locally and around the world.
The people who would have gained the most â€“ Blacks, Latinos, and the poor â€“ voted against the proposition. Robert Gammon from East Bay Express reported that, â€œBlacks, Latinos, and Asians split their ballots. Large majorities of them went for Boxer and Brown, but then crossed over and voted against Prop. 19.Â If Blacks, Latinos, and Asians had voted for Prop. 19 the way they did for Brown and Boxer, then the measure would have won by roughly 100,000 votes, the data shows.â€
In Los Angeles County, for example, cops arrested Blacks for pot possession at seven times the rate of whites from 2006 to 2008.Â And Latinos, who make up 10% of the countyâ€™s population, were arrested twice as often as whites.Â â€œFor decades, law enforcement strategies have targeted low-income people of color who bear the disproportionate burden and stigma of arrest, prosecution, and permanent criminal records for marijuana possession and other minor drug offenses,â€ Alice Huffman, the President of the California NAACP, stated in one of the reports. The California NAACP itself favored Prop. 19.
The Ugly – Cannabis Traitors
By far the most disappointing aspect of the whole effort to legalize cannabis with Prop.19 were the people in the cannabis industry who campaigned against getting the law passed. People like the self-titled â€œStoners Against Prop. 19â€ and Dennis Peron, who previously helped to get Californiaâ€™s medical cannabis laws passed in 1996, turned out to be traitors to the movement. These people spread misinformation about the measure and helped confuse the voters. Boycotts against anti-Prop. 19 people and their businesses are now being organized for these â€œcannabis traitorsâ€. Go to the website www.cannabiswarrior.com to find out more. Their biggest lie was that Prop. 19 would have hurt medical cannabis rights, which it would not have done. They argued that the current system is better, where the medical cannabis community is constantly terrorized by the threat of arrest, to which we only have an affirmative defense.
If Los Angeles County D.A. Cooley was elected, then the blame would have been put squarely on the shoulders of these anti-freedom for cannabis forces for scaring people away from even voting at all and confusing people about the ballot. As Aaron Houston of the Marijuana Policy Project said, â€œFor all the effort the Swiftboat Stoners for Prohibition expended, they never thought to pick up a newspaper and see Cooleyâ€™s attacks on medical marijuana. Amazing.â€ Also, growers who feared change and competition largely came out against legalizing it. This fear of economic impact killed support in Californiaâ€™s pot-growing Emerald Triangle of Mendocino (47%), Humboldt (47%), and Trinity Counties (40%), all of which rejected Prop. 19.
Surprisingly, even some dispensaries were against Prop. 19. They would have not only been in a much better legal situation, but they would have made 10 to 100 times more money. Since most places in California (esp. San Diego) sales outlets would not have been established, it would have left medical cannabis dispensaries as the only local access.
A Long Walk to Freedom
Over 4.5 million people voted to legalize cannabis, but almost 5.3 million voted against it. Part of the problem is the apathy in our society since the population of California consists of 36 million people. Therefore, most did not even bother to vote on the issue. As Nelson Mandela says, â€œIt is a long walk to freedom,â€ the struggle continues.
In 1913, California became the first state in the United States to make cannabis illegal and could have been the first to re-legalize it. The last time pot legalization appeared on the ballot was in 1972, when it was defeated (33-66). Still, confidence remains high that change is coming according to Richard Lee, the cannabis superhero behind the proposition. â€œItâ€™s just the beginning; we knew this was just one battle in a big war. We didnâ€™t get the result we wanted, but itâ€™s clearer than ever to me that itâ€™s no longer a matter of IF weâ€™ll end cannabis prohibition â€“ itâ€™s simply a matter of WHEN.â€