by David Downs
'Don't stop believin' was the message from Prop 19 creator Richard Lee of Oakland after the initiative to tax and regulate pot lost by around 540,000 votes, 46 percent to 53 percent Tuesday night. About 3.3 million Californians voted for the measure, 3.9 million didn't. But Prop 19 is widely considered to have elevated the discussion about the nation's drug war to unprecedented levels, Lee said.
“The fact that millions of Californians voted to legalize marijuana is a tremendous victory," Lee said. "We have broken the glass ceiling. Prop. 19 has changed the terms of the debate. And that was a major strategic goal.”
Indeed, even though California rejected the statewide tax and regulate measure, the spirit of the initiative was embraced from blue county to red. In Berkeley, a measure to tax and regulate medical cannabis and add historic cultivation licenses passed resoundingly 82 to 17.
In Sacramento, a medical cannabis taxation Measure C passed soundly with 70 percent of the vote. And Measure U in San Jose, another tax on cannabis measure passed 78 to 21.
Bans on dispensaries in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay went down in defeat 60-39 and 54-45. Richmond, Albany, Stockton, Rancho Cordova, La Puente, and Long Beach also passed tax and regulate measures, albeit on medical cannabis. The Associated Press has reported medical cannabis is all but a fig leaf over a tumescent cannabis culture that is only getting bigger.
Furthermore, Democrats now control the State Assembly, the State Senate and the Governor's office in Sacramento. Several pro-cannabis bills that died at the desk of a Republican governor are now viable, including tax and regulate laws by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, although it should be noted that incoming Governor Jerry Brown opposed Prop 19.
Some of the taxation measures that passed last night will most definitely face challenges in court. Watchers say they are too high. Rancho Cordova passed taxes as high as $900 per square-foot on cultivation, which could effectively block access to the lawful herbal remedy, in violation of Prop 215.
“Over the course of the last year, it has become clear that the legalization of marijuana is no longer a question of if but a question of when,” Lee said. “Because of this campaign, millions now understand it’s time to develop an exit strategy for the failed war on marijuana. Across the state our opponents, including many newspaper editorial boards that failed to properly understand Prop. 19, repeatedly stated that their quibbles were not with legalization in general. When we come back with a new initiative in 2012, there will be a seat at the table for all of these new stakeholders. And we will be coming back, stronger than ever.”
All of the forces that watchers predicted would come into play managed to drag down the Prop 19 campaign, including: an older, whiter electorate who proved quite sensitive to last-minute threats from the federal government. Prop 19 outspent its opponents 10 to 1 using mostly voter donations, but a chorus of negativity that included the Obama administration, Democrats Barbara Boxer, Nancy Pelosi, Jerry Brown, and both candidates for Attorney General erased support for the measure in the last three weeks of the campaign.
“Its utterly shameful this president and this administration chose to stick to the old line and it is something that they will come to regret,” said campaigner James Anthony.
Prop 19 had always faced long odds. In the 20th Century, seventy-three initiative measures related to prohibition, drugs, and alcohol circulated. Only twenty qualified for the ballot box and just five were approved. The last time pot legalization appeared on the ballot was in 1972 where it was defeated 33-66. Medical cannabis passed soundly in 1996 55-44. So did rehab-not-jail measure Prop 36 in 2000 (60-39). But further decriminalization efforts in 2008 under Prop 5 failed 59-40.
Major funding was not the issue, Anthony said. Instead Prop 19 faced an unexpected backfire from radical growers among its own potential ranks.
“$140 million cannot buy the governorship of this state. The issue is how well you work the media. I think it was interesting the emergence of the fear in small rural areas that have a marijuana economy where people were afraid of change. I think the media did a good job covering that.”
Medical cannabis did not do well on the national stage. Republicans took control of the House, while Democrats held onto the Senate. Oregon's dispensary Measure 74 lost 42-57 and South Dakota's fourth attempt at getting a medical marijuana program failed resoundingly 36-64. Anti-medical marijuana candidates for governor in New Mexico and Connecticut also won Tuesday.
Lastly, anti-medical marijuana candidate for California Attorney General Steve Cooley is losing to San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris by just 39,000 votes with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Medical marijuana activist staged a last-minute "Anyone But Cooley" campaign that clearly made the difference in that race.