Why Prop 19 Lost: Apathy, Cash, Fear, Loathing



Prop 19 lost 46-54 Tuesday by around a half a million votes, and those lack of votes can be attributed to: youth voter apathy, funding problems, and a powerful attack from the front and the rear, among other factors. An exit poll done by Edison Research of 2,200 precincts Tuesday found just 10 percent of voters considered Prop 19 their number one issue. Paid for by the Los Angeles Times, the Edison poll showed half of voters thought the governor's race was the main event. Even among young voters, Prop 19 came in third in importance.

Yes on 19 had 219,000 Facebook fans to 1,000 fans of No on 19, but it didn't translate into enough votes. Campaign headquarters made 56,000 calls Tuesday, but lacked that energy several weeks back as the deadline to register to vote passed. Legalization Nation interviewed young smokers who supported Prop 19, but never registered to vote. Another young smoker said he would have voted yes, but failed to register absentee and vote before a planned trip overseas. And young voters aren't a monolithic block. The Bay Citizen filmed conservatives and contrarians at UC Berkeley who were voting against the measure.

Prop 19 didn't raise much money. It was an outsider campaign that shot for $15 million and got less than $5 million. Arguably, if Tax & Regulate got the money, it could've bought votes through advertising. But using Meg Whitman's dollars-for-votes campaign as a benchmark, Prop 19 would have needed about $25 million total.

The Obama administration is also bound by law to fight legalization. Three weeks before the election, US Attorney General Eric Holder said he would “vigorously enforce” federal law in California if Prop 19 passed. He was joined in opposition by Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi, both attorney general candidates, the Chamber of Commerce, the police lobby and fundamentalist Christians who banned gay marriage via Prop 8.

Prop 19 also faced a significant backlash from their own flanks in the radical drug reform community. The so-called “Stoners Against Legalization” were a minority of a minority, but a vocal one. They said Prop 19 was a bad law that didn't go far enough and viewed it through a lens of vehement anti-capitalism. It did not carry the growing communities in the Emerald Triangle.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger also threw a curve ball at the end of the campaign when he signed a bill making personal possession of marijuana an infraction — equivalent to a speeding ticket. The governor's signature amplified the popular idea that pot is already pretty much legal in California. The awkward medical cannabis industry has emerged as a state of detente between warriors and reformers. Citizens apparently feel comfortable giving speeding tickets to recreational smokers, but jail time to their hook-up, who are often minorities. More than 14,000 Californians were arrested for cannabis sales in 2007, and they face prison for repeat counts.

On a larger level, Prop 19 tried and failed to use the window of opportunity created by the immense economic hole the state has dug for itself. The Depression helped end alcohol prohibition, but the Great Recession didn't stop the war on pot and that window may have closed. Californians say they feel strapped, but even under a World War's worth of debt, they've proven willing to spend $1 billion a year enforcing unenforceable pot laws.