Whether Prop 19 Passes or Not, Legalization is Now Mainstream
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California's Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization "Tax and Regulate" initiative, has been a roller coaster ride for drug policy reformers. In May polls showed Prop 19 in the lead, but not by much and with support under 50%. For the next four months, the numbers did something we didn't expect; opposition to the measure steadily decreased. One pollster interviewed in early October for my organization's newsletter, commented, "If I was in Las Vegas and I was a betting man, I'd bet on [Prop 19] to win, but I'd only bet money I could afford to lose." A number of funders took that bet last month, adding steam to what had been a mostly low-profile campaign.
The last few weeks have seen support for Prop 19 fall in most polls, a phenomenon common to controversial ballot measures. Voters might support the general concept of an initiative -- west coast support for marijuana legalization polled at 58% last week -- but some inevitably develop doubts about a given initiative at a given time, especially as opponents raise questions, and when uncertain tend pull the "no" lever. If Prop 19 is defeated, that will be the reason, not opposition in principle to legalization. But defeat is not inevitable. Last-minute donations funding an ad blitz, and extensive voter turnout efforts, could make the difference, and the campaign has pointed out that polling conducted by computer rather than live interviewers still shows the initiative ahead. One late poll, while showing the initiative behind, also found voters who don't usually turn out for midterm elections coming out for Prop 19. If the marijuana vote can change turnout demographics tomorrow, that could make the difference too.
Win or lose, though, in a sense Prop 19 has already won. A partial listing of mainstream organizations that have publicly called for marijuana legalization for the first time by endorsing Prop 19, shows that legalization can no longer credibly be dismissed as from the fringe:
- California NAACP
- LULAC of California
- Latino Voters League
- National Black Police Association
- National Latino Officers Association
- SEIU of California
- UFCW Western States Council
- ILWU Northern California District Council
- California Young Democrats
Those are only some of the larger ones. Current and former politicians in California have endorsed Prop 19, from the local level up through Congress. Founders of Facebook, Gmail and PayPal made financial contributions to the campaign. Widespread positive coverage including editorials in the likes of Newsweek and the New York Times makes the point too.
We'll find out on Tuesday what California voters decide about Prop 19 this year. But win or lose this time, a page in history has turned -- drug policy reform is an issue who time has come, and time is on our side.