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Will California Legalize Pot?

With only a few months to go until the election, the campaign to legalize marijuana in California has only $50,000 in cash on hand. The question now is: How can it win?

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Women, who were key in the effort to legalize medical cannabis and have more generally  helped mainstream pot use, will also be targeted. According to Richard Lee, soccer moms in particular are a big undecided group. "We have to educate them about how Prop. 19 will protect their kids better than the status quo," he says. "The current system draws kids into selling and buying cannabis. If alcohol was illegal, it'd be the same way. There is a forbidden fruit attraction."

Stephen Gutwillig agrees: "The campaign must validate moms' instinct that there is something whack about marijuana prohibition. The instinct that marijuana is more like tobacco and alcohol than not, and safer -- which it is -- and that there's no reason that we shouldn't be trying to regulate marijuana. They know we're wasting a lot of law enforcement resources on this futile attempt to enforce these unenforceable laws."

As Prop. 19 works on the ground, it will count on the field support of three organizations. One is NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws; the second is the Courage Campaign, a progressive advocacy group with 800,000 members. Arisha Hatch, the national field director at Courage, estimates that about 500 to 1,000 of its volunteers will be highly involved with the Prop. 19 campaign's get-out-the-vote work, which she sees as "the biggest challenge [Prop. 19] will face. We need to get people to actually speak on message and in a responsible way about what taxing and regulating cannabis will be like.

"Marijuana legalization is the only thing on the ballot that can replicate that turnout. I see it as an extremely important issue for progressives, which is why Courage has made it the initiative we're supporting this cycle," Hatch says.

The final group supporting Prop. 19 on the ground is Students for Sensible Drug Policy, which will manage the campus outreach and focus on bringing out the youth vote.

Aaron Houston, the executive director of SSDP, says he is committed to proving the conventional wisdom about youth voters and midterm elections wrong: "What we're going to change with this election is demonstrate that marijuana on the ballot motivates young people to turn out and vote. Opportunistic politicians will find out that marijuana increases youth turnout and that speaking out against drug reform is to their peril."

Scoping out the opposition

Prop. 19's most vocal opposition comes from the top. Gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown don't see eye to eye on much, but they both seem to have decided it's politically expedient to oppose the measure. Senator Dianne Feinstein also recently came out against it.

"I was at a party with doctors who said they used to light up with Jerry Brown," says Garzon. "But you know, the reality is that we know that politicians aren't going to lead on this issue."

Feinstein, for her part,  refers to a Rand study released this month to justify the idea that "if Proposition 19 passes, the only thing that would be certain is drug use would go up and the state of California would run afoul of federal law and risk losing federal funding."

But if you read the actual  study, you learn that Rand is still rather conservative in its ability to prognosticate much: "The proposed legislation in California would create a large change in policy. As a result it is uncertain how useful these studies are for making projections about marijuana legalization."

Yet even a rather staid study like Rand still sees positives such as tax revenues, which the state has projected could be as high as $1.4 billion annually. As for Feinstein's claim, there is no reason to believe Prop. 5 would affect federal funding (which Feinstein will fight for anyway). As Richard Lee says, similar arguments were used against Prop. 215 but the medical marijuana measure has not resulted in less funding coming to California. And regarding the senator's assertion that drug use will go up, the opposite may be true. Other studies show that marijuana use among youth has actually dropped  since medical marijuana was legalized in California. There was a  47 percent decline among the state's ninth-graders from 1996 to 2006.