Drugs

California's Marijuana Legalization Initiative is Already a Winner

Ten weeks from Election Day, it’s clear how much Prop. 19 has already accomplished for the drug policy reform movement.

Californians have a chance to make history in November when they vote on Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana for adults over 21. Polls collectively show voters split but leaning toward this momentous stand against failed marijuana prohibition. Ten weeks from Election Day, it’s clear how much Prop. 19 has already accomplished for the drug policy reform movement.

 

Conventional wisdom about changing marijuana laws previously called for waiting until at least 2012. It was assumed waiting would allow the reform movement time to build more support for the issue and to rely on the larger, younger electorate that inevitably accompanies a presidential election. Sensing the time was right this year, Oakland-based medical marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee ignored that conventional wisdom. He brought together a top notch team to carefully draft an initiative, put up his own money to collect signatures, built an impressive campaign, and took Prop. 19 to the people.

 

Today, Richard Lee already appears remarkably prescient.

 

Prop. 19 is arguably the highest profile voter initiative in the nation and has unleashed a torrent of global interest. The initiative has generated thousands of international stories, explicitly discussing this alternative to our disastrous policies. In particular Prop. 19 has radically accelerated the public’s understanding of the relative harms of marijuana, tobacco, and alcohol, validating the widespread suspicion that a fundamental hypocrisy lies at the heart of the outright ban on marijuana -- as evidenced by the endorsement of former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

 

Prop. 19 has inspired an unprecedented coalition in support of reforming our futile and wasteful marijuana laws. Students for Sensible Drug Policy and Firedoglake.com organized students, law-enforcement, libertarians and progressives to launch their “Just Say Now” campaign. The California NAACP, the state ACLU affiliates, and the National Black Police Association all endorsed Prop. 19 specifically citing the chilling racial disparities in the enforcement of marijuana laws. Latino leadership, starting recently with Assembly Member Hector De La Torre and the Latino Voters League, has just begun to weigh in as well. Finally, organized labor -- from longshoremen to food to communications workers -- for the first time offered endorsements because controlling and regulating marijuana will mean jobs and revenue that the state currently cedes to criminal cartels and the black market.

 

This coalition signifies that serious people take regulating marijuana for adults seriously. Prop. 19 is now at the heart of spirited debates at kitchen tables, in college classrooms, and in halls of power that once assumed the inevitability of the status quo. In fact, former Mexican president Vicente Fox just endorsed marijuana legalization precisely to address the prohibition-related bloodbath in Mexico that has taken 28,000 lives in a little over three and a half years.

 

In this country Prop. 19 has truly sped up the political debate on marijuana policy overall, one that was previously dominated by medical marijuana issues. The major candidates for statewide office in California generally oppose Prop. 19. However professional politicos, including California Democratic Party chair John Burton, already identify marijuana legalization as a potential game-changing issue to drive Democratic turnout among younger, progressive voters in this and future elections. That’s precisely why Lieutenant Governor nominee and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, with a potentially long future in state politics, publicly agonized over his decision to not endorse Prop. 19 ("I'm frustrated with myself on this one, to be truthful."). Even the California PTA has acknowledged these shifting winds by taking a neutral rather than opposing position, signaling the historic debate that must have occurred within its venerable ranks.

 

All of us who have worked for years to educate and mobilize against the failed drug war owe thanks to Richard Lee and the Prop. 19 campaign. The initiative has created opportunities that conventional wisdom simply couldn’t have predicted. Anyone sick and tired of our disastrous marijuana prohibition has been handed a chance to make history. California voters should not only go to the polls but to talk to friends, family, and neighbors about Prop. 19.

 

Prop. 19 is already a winner. Imagine when we make this the vote heard around the world.

Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance. Stephen Gutwillig is the California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.