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The Prop. 19 Battle Lines Are Drawn: Will Californians Make the Right Decision and Vote to Legalize Pot?

Prop. 19 would make California the first state to legalize marijuana.
 
 
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With election day now less than a month away, California's Proposition 19 tax and regulate marijuana legalization initiative is leading in most polls (although a Monday Reuters/Ipsos poll showing it losing by nine points sent a chill down the spines of supporters) and is well-positioned to make California the first entity anywhere to legalize marijuana. But what happens in the next 27 days is crucial, as proponents and opponents alike seek to come up with the votes to prevail.

The battle lines are drawn.

Lining up in support of Prop 19 are dozens of (mostly) retired law enforcement figures, including former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara and former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, as well as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and the National Black Police Association; four California US congressmen; dozens of state and local elected officials; local ACLU chapters; the California NAACP; the California Libertarian Party, the California Green Party; the California Young Democrats and many local Democratic groups; the Republican Liberty Caucus; organized labor groups, including the SEIU of California, the Western States UFCW, the longshoremen, and various union locals; clergy, including the California Council of Churches IMPACT and the Interfaith Drug Policy Initiative; economist Dr. Jeffrey Miron; and a number of physicians, including former US Surgeon General Joyce Elders. California's burgeoning professional cannabis community has moved Prop 19 forward, with supporters including the Harborside Health Center, the Berkeley Patients Group, and the initiative's primary sponsor, Oaksterdam's Richard Lee.

On the other side are the usual suspects: The California Narcotics Officers' Association, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Correctional Supervisors Organization, the California Peace Officers Association, the California District Attorney Association, and local police associations. They are joined by all federal drug czars past and present, past and present DEA administrators, both California US senators and most of the congressional delegation, most newspaper editorial boards, the California Chamber of Commerce, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the California Beer and Beverage Distributors (who chipped in $10,000 to

Public Safety First, a political action committee created to oppose Prop 19), Californians for a Drug-Free Youth, DARE America, and other anti-drug organizations.

But given marijuana's increasing popular acceptance, legalization foes aren't getting much traction anymore with "marijuana is the devil's drug" messages. Instead, they are forced into tangential attacks: Prop 19 will lead to more drugged driving; it will lead to workers high on the job, they say. It won't earn tax revenues because everyone will grow his own. It will create a "regulatory nightmare." Jacob Sullum at Reason magazine and veteran expert activist and Prop 19 steering committee member Chris Conrad's Prop 19 Fact Check and Rumor Control web page both do a thorough job of debunking those claims.

The opposition so far has been relatively low profile -- because it doesn't have any money. According to campaign contribution data at the California Secretary of State's office, Public Safety First has only managed to raise $178,000 to oppose Prop 19 this year, and more significantly, only has $54,000 in the bank right now. That's not enough to bankroll any kind of media campaign in the nation's most populous state.

That's a change from the past, when foes of drug reform initiatives could count on big money from special interests, as was the case in 2008, when a sentencing reform initiative that appeared headed for victory went down in flames after a big injection of funds from the powerful and wealthy prison guards' union. This year, the prison guards and their pile of cash are sitting it out.

 
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