by David Downs
The Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative cannot count on cannabis' strongest ally: progressives, because they historically stay home at mid-terms, analysts say. Fifty-six percent of Californians favor legalization, but voter turnout will drop dramatically from the historic 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama. Obama's election saw eighty percent of registered voters turn out to vote one way or the other, but perhaps 60 percent of registered voters will turn out this year, says professional pollster Ben Tulchin. That drop is expected to comprise the youthful idealists.
“A lot of younger voters voted for the first time, a lot of ethnic voters voted for the first time, that dynamic won't be in play this year. Quite frankly, when you go from 80 to 60, that difference in the electorate is the progressives.”
And those who do vote are there for the main event: the likely gubernatorial election of either Republican businesswoman Meg Whitman or former Democratic governor Jerry Brown.
“My experience is candidate campaigns drive turnout. They are the highest profile in terms of what people are paying attention to and that drives turnout. Every ballot initiative is along for the ride.”
So is Whitman and Brown's stated opposition to reform going to hurt the initiative? It could, says Tulchin, but opinions of politicians are at new lows.
“Voters are cynical," Tulchin says. "They're fed up with the status quo."
Driving that cynicism is a cycle of budget crises California's leaders cannot seem to terminate. California's wrecked balance sheets actually fuel TaxCannabis 2010.
Pot sales could mean billions of dollars in local taxes, and there's early proof that TaxCannabis 2010 can amass the campaign funding necessary to advertise that fact. Their direct opponents, on the other hand, don't seem to have much cash for a fight.
When Whitman and Brown tussle over fixing the state budget, they help TaxCann by reinforcing perceptions of the fiscal crisis' severity. Tax revenues from alcohol encouraged the end of Prohibition in cash-strapped Depression-era America. The same dynamic could come into play.
“It's an activity that is already being done,” Tulchin says. “If the 'Yes' side can frame this as, 'Let's regulate and tax it to help balance the budget and fund essential services,' the public is open to coming up with creative and alternative ways to raise new revenue.”
But Californians are notoriously unpredictable. The state banned gay marriage and ok'd stem cell research. It prosecutes non-violent drug offenders while collecting almost $100 million in medicinal marijuana taxes each year.
“It all depends on timing and mood,” Tulchin says. “I think it's a very bellwether initiative because of voters' competing motivations. Traditionally California voters have voted for every tough on crime measure on the ballot. It's a pretty consistent pattern that goes against what the initiative is trying to do. With the budget deficit being a fundamental problem, this is a change from the status quo. You can take advantage of cross currents in this election.”