Reason On Marijuana: Just A Matter Of When

Just a Matter of When?
Legalizing marijuana has failed in California. But even in defeat, Proposition 19 might mark the beginning of the end for prohibition.

Brian Doherty from the February 2011 issue of Reason
On Homecoming Day at the University of Southern California, Elizabeth Tauro strode purposefully through the dense, shifting mob of pre-game partiers, bearing huge rolls of “Yes on 19” stickers on each arm.
Saying yes to California’s Proposition 19 would have meant that adults could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. They also would have been allowed to grow marijuana on up to 25 square feet of their property. Local governments would have been free to raise (but not reduce) these limits on possession and cultivation. They would also have been authorized to license, regulate, and tax sales of the long-demonized weed.

Tauro, a senior majoring in public policy, was working the crowd on this Saturday before Election Day on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. At this point in the campaign, she said, she was mostly “just letting everyone know that Tuesday is Election Day” rather than arguing the benefits of pot legalization. “Our generation supports reforming marijuana laws,” she said. “It’s just a question of whether they vote.”
Not enough of them did. Proposition 19 lost by 54 percent to 46 percent just six weeks after most polls showed it winning. The drug war’s foes had been on the verge of achieving a staggering victory, one that would have forced a confrontation with the federal government. Instead they saw history slip through their fingers.
Yet reformers are still optimistic. Prop. 19 won a higher vote total (and higher vote percentage) than any previous attempt to legalize pot in the United States. It made legalization—not medical marijuana, not decriminalization, but full legalization—a legitimate political debate in the country’s biggest state. And it forged a coalition that stretched far beyond the usual axis of antiprohibition activists, notwithstanding some dissension within the ranks. The opposition, meanwhile, conceded some important arguments to the reformers, suggesting that public opinion has moved further along than ever before. The legalization of marijuana, activists argue, is a matter of when, not if.
Who Supported Prop. 19
Prop. 19 sprang from the brain and bank account of Richard Lee, a medical marijuana entrepreneur who operates a big dispensary and associated retail stores in Oakland as well as Oaksterdam University, a vocational school for the new industry that has had more than 12,000 students pass through since 2007.
Lee has played the local politics of medical marijuana as skillfully as anyone, winning city approval for industrial-sized indoor growing operations to feed the medical distribution system as well as a statement of intent to legalize the general sale of marijuana to adults as soon as the state permits it. Lee’s opponents paint him as the would-be kingpin of legal pot, using the political system to guarantee that his in-the-works industrial grows will corner a market he is fighting to create.
Even while thriving within the medical marijuana system, Lee has always pushed for full legalization, because he thinks “prohibition is hypocritical, unjust, and unfair.” In March 2009, a poll Lee commissioned showed, for the first time, a majority of California voters supporting legalization. At that point, he began drafting language for a ballot initiative. Two other legalization measures vied for the 2010 ballot, but only Lee, who spent nearly $1 million just on gathering signatures, had the money to succeed.
Traditional drug reform groups initially either snubbed Lee or advised him that a presidential election year would be better. “It was surprising to see how hostile they got,” he says. Lee joined the board of the Marijuana Policy Project, hoping he could steer it toward supporting his initiative, but the group lacked the money and the will, leading Lee to resign and go it largely alone. Representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) did help him with drafting the language of the initiative, while remaining doubtful about the timing.
The major drug reform groups did eventually all get behind Prop. 19, and two of the biggest moneybags in reform circles, George Soros and Peter Lewis, chipped in during the last days of the campaign. (Soros’ $1 million donation was funneled not through Lee’s organization but through a separate pro-19 group managed by the DPA.) It “hurt us,” Lee says, that the big drug policy groups “didn’t get on board until late in the process.”
But long before Soros hopped on, the Yes on 19 coalition had expanded far beyond the drug policy world. Seasoned Democratic operatives joined the pro-19 campaign, even though incoming California Gov. Jerry Brown opposed it and Sen. Dianne Feinstein chaired the opposition. The progressive netroots blog Firedoglake launched a “Just Say Now” campaign that, together with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, placed 50,000 targeted get-out-the-vote calls. And perhaps most significantly, the proposition was endorsed by such drug policy newbies as the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the League of United Latin American Citizens of California.
“The groups most adversely affected by the drug war—minorities, Latinos, African Americans—were not [traditionally] in the fray,” says Neill Franklin, a former police officer who leads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) When the NAACP endorsed Prop. 19, he says, it was “a game changer I called [Alice Huffman, head of the California NAACP,] up and told her I was law enforcement, and I was for Proposition 19. She said she practically fell out of her chair.” LEAP sent representatives to more than 250 events around the state, emphasizing that police and court resources should be used more productively than in the failed attempt to get people to stop selling and using a relatively benign drug. (A September 2010 study for the Cato Institute by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that California spends $960 million a year on marijuana law enforcement.) LEAP recruited the National Black Police Association and the National Latino Officers Association for the cause.
Organized labor was another important source of new support. Dan Rush, special operations director for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local #5, got excited about the jobs that could be created in a legal market for marijuana and hemp. He convinced his union, against initial doubts, that “this initiative would create an industry in retail, agriculture, and food processing, and UFCW is a retail, agriculture, and food processing union.” He became labor director for the Yes on 19 campaign.
Rush convinced the powerful Service Employees International Union and the Northern California Council of the Longshoremen to back Prop. 19, and he persuaded the California Labor Federation (CLF) to refrain from opposing it. When the next legalization campaign comes along, Rush swears he’ll be able to move the CLF from neutrality to support, which could be a key step toward changing minds in the Democratic Party.
Who Didn’t Support Prop. 19
Although Prop 19 found new allies in the civil rights and labor movements, it did not have the unified support of the marijuana reform movement. The most successful and active medical marijuana group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), was officially neutral. That in itself was not necessarily a problem. Given the group’s institutional mandate to deal exclusively with medical marijuana, Yes on 19 spokesperson Dale Sky Jones says, ASA’s neutrality was “the closest they could come to officially supporting us.”
Medical marijuana dispensaries were split on the issue. Although the initiative was ultimately crafted to change nothing at all about the laws in place protecting doctor-certified patients’ access to pot and their ability to grow, possess, and exchange it, rumors were rife that they would be hit with new limits on how much they could possess. (The current limit—set by court decisions, not statute—is whatever is deemed medically necessary for the patient.) Others noted that the proposition didn’t legalize smoking pot in public, and worried that this would be a loophole allowing authorities to harass medicinal smokers. Pro-19 canvassers say many dispensaries refused to allow campaign literature in their shops. Since the passage of California’s Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the medical folks had managed to create a market niche for sellers and a relatively safe haven for users, and many feared that opening up the market to more competition would be bad for their bottom line.
For the same reason, and with more anger, most of the growers from Northern California’s fertile Humboldt and Mendocino counties were against Prop. 19. The initiative lost in both. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and one of the oldest warriors in the national drug policy fight, says the growers rebelled when they decided there was “no way post-prohibition for anyone to fetch $15 or $25 for a gram of dried vegetable matter.” People currently making $25 to $30 an hour trimming weed in Humboldt imagined their jobs reduced to minimum-wage work or eliminated entirely.
Read the rest here.

33 thoughts

  1. Stunning!
    CORPORATE Northern California Cannabis Growers,
    along with the Dispensary Empire are SELL-OUTS,
    plain & simple.
    I never thought I’d see the day when dedicated cannabis users, growers & dispensers would oppose LEGALIZATION which would benefit the mostly marginalized majority.
    Whatever happened to:
    “Against the Wall, MoFos!”
    “Up the Government!”
    “Power to the People!!”

  2. governments and laws are what that made up the world as in today. Imagine the world where people can roam freely and respectably. I guess that just isn’t possible anymore.

  3. on the poster thing you have, you don’t have numbers for the “number of arrests” portion. Also, it would serve to underscore that portion (and not put off pro-gun people) if you included a “number of deaths due to marijuana vs number of deaths due to a deadly weapon” chart above it.
    also also, i would suggest starting the initiative in a state with a higher consumer:grower ratio, and in that legislation include increases in compensation for police who investigate or apprehend violent criminals or thieves. And, really, you could put making random workplace drug testing illegal on the same ballot to boost your numbers – i live in southern Illinois, a very conservative area, and people are mostly against workplace drug testing here: they think it is the government sticking their nose where it doesn’t belong. If people go to the ballot thinking about limiting government involvement in personal life, they would probably make the connection to legalization of marijuana as well. To test this create surveys where you ask if they would support banning workplace drug testing and the legalization of marijuana, but change the order in which you ask these two questions on half of the surveys, and compare the results – if the people who were asked about workplace drug testing first were more likely to support legalization, then this theory is correct and worth pursuing.

  4. “Just A Matter Of When” That is so sad. Because each day more of the 900,000 fellow citizens are arrested. Sad because each day of delay more qand more sick people die from disease which would of been killed off by the cannabis compounds. Each day we deny those who are sick from their pursuit of happiness, and life without any due process, we don’t afford them any equal protection under the law, yes it is sad. Each day this constructive fruad claims more lives while waiting for justice to be done.

  5. It would be nice to have this graphic made into a postcard type of handout to give to people.

  6. Let’s say:
    you’ve been riding the fence on the issue of legalizing cannabis for years, and have finally come to the point where a stiff breeze could push you off the fence to vote yes [but with a small element of fear]. In fact – you’re counted in the favorable polling numbers that indicate its passing.
    Now let’s say:
    the Justice Department announces that they don’t care what California says, if Prop 19 passes, they will “aggressively pursue federal charges.” Not only that but the DEA swears vengance against medical dispensaries. To put a cherry on the cake, Cooley, an ex drug cop, is running for California Attorney General. Leonart and Cooley!!! the deadly duo!!!
    Here’s the big question:
    Which way do you think the fence riders voted after hearing all that voter intimidation by the Feds? Right!!! better safe than sorry. They didn’t want their name on a ballot with a box marked yes [fear of reprisal]. Besides, Northern California [the Emerald Triangle], the largest cannabis producing market in the U.S. could evaporate with its passing and destroy Northern California’s economy.
    “If at first you don’t succed – try, try , again and again until you wear them down. Any parent knows that. Be a kid!!!”

  7. I understand workers and growers worried about their jobs and income, but to support Prohibition, sending people to prison, is just plain evil. No job is worth that kind of human cost. The situation reminds one of slavery, and how certain individuals supported it for economic reasons. Dirty money – Blood money.

  8. In my opinion, the reason 19 went down was because the citizens of California rejected the stoner image, long hair and beards, have you thought, so many great people have inhaled Cannabis, President Bill Clinton from Arkansas, I read somewhere he paid big bucks for his barber, if Hillary can ever admit she inhaled, well there we go.

    “The Reformation”
    Genesis I:29,30,31
    To all Genesists [our brethren] of the world.
    WHEN? – “The time is now!” Now! is the time to put up our team as a united front. There’s nothing as powerful as an idea that’s time has come. It’s time has come! “It’s time” – time to play the feds on their home field with God as our coach and God’s word as our play book. Religious use [Sacramental use] is an offense, not a defence. “God’s word doesn’t need defending.” God bless the Rastas and all other’s who have faith. Recreational use is fun, medicinal use is absolutely necessary, but religious use is the “Super Bowl.”
    JOIN THE DIALOGUE – let us know who you are in this fight to repeal the prohibition of our Sacrament by your posts, indicating which of the 3141 colonies [county] you reside in. Join us in letting the prohibitionists feel the might of common sense and reason based on a mightier source than a bully’s hand filled with an invalid and unjust law prohibiting our Sacrament.

  10. Weed, Marijuana etc is no different than alcohol in my opinion and should be treated the same way. It also seems like a “no brainer” as far as tax revenue that the government badly needs to help us with the deficit.

  11. It also didn’t help that only between 20-25% of the populace in California voted on that specific legislation.

  12. California’s failed cannabis re-legalization attempt, Proposition 19, has done quite a bit to raise the awareness of people across the globe of how unjust the prohibition against cannabis has been. But in it’s failure, it also has re-invigorated a repressive authoritarian backlash, not only against re-legalization but also States’ Medical Marijuana programs, and not only from the Feds|DEA but also at the State and local levels.
    Blaming the failure of Prop 19 on the “Nay” votes from those who have been involved in this “green revolution” is fraudulent and self-serving. If Prop 19 is to succeed in 2012 it will need to be completely re-written, in order to shed the appearance of catering to special interests, i.e. Richard Lee.
    A new “populist” re-legalization effort needs to address the concerns of those “Mom&Pop” cultivators that voted “Nay”, as well as addressing the huge disparity in the rights and liberties of cannabis users from one locality to another — this should be a State’s Rights and a State-level prerogative that raises a more rational minimal level of rights from one locale to another. It also needs to come considerably closer to the “free as beer” that was in place for cannabis before the prohibitionists started getting their way 80+ years ago. A State that re-legalizes cannabis must be able to provide a united front against the Federal government’s forces of repression. Otherwise, localities will be attacked individually at the greater risk to the entire State-wide re-legalization effort — “United we stand, and divided we fall” is not just a myth.
    Better written cannabis re-legalization will succeed only if it is done in a more holistic approach — that clarifies and collapses those grey areas in current legislation that the repressive authoritarians have made use of regarding MMJ, and well as a regulatory and tax structure that favors both more generous State-wide regulations and State-wide tax benefits. A State-wide referendum should benefit citizens State-wide, and not get chopped up into domains of liberty and domains of repression — otherwise, State-wide legislation will benefit only particular localities, hardly democratic. Richard Lee is something of a hero regarding cannabis re-legalization, but a successful referendum will not provide the most benefit only to the most powerful.
    While NORML has done a yeoman’s job at collating and parsing the benefits of Medical Marijuana, that effort did not translate into a major segment of the “YES on Prop 19” legislative effort. Neither did the long history of Federal interference in the rights and liberties of citizens through the cannabis “inquisition”, like the construct of civil asset forfeiture. Nor was enough effort placed upon publicizing the 2 government-funded scientific investigations (La Guardia Commission c.1939 and Shafer Commission c.1971) that have already concluded that cannabis (1) is not medically harmful, (2) is not socially destructive, and (3) should be re-legalized — government studies ignored by the government, for some other nefarious purpose. The scientific studies have been done — there is no need for any other study to reiterate the obvious. New legislation and a new public relations campaign that addresses all aspects of the cannabis prohibition and War on Drugs|War on People’s Rights, a more holistic approach, should succeed.
    (And in my personal opinion, would have succeeded with a better written Prop 19 & and a more in-depth public relations campaign. People are not stupid, just passive, and a more thoughtful re-legalization campaign that engages the public’s thought processes will win. Let’s try harder next time.)

  13. Until we can get you falks regster to vote and go out to vote cannabic will not become leagle for the puplic. In fact i woud say that the next 2 to 5 years you will see medical cannabis be out law in all state enclfing yes calf


  15. 2012 we need to focus on another state let the hypocrits in norhtern calif lose out on the bussiness it could bring. I personaly dont buy anything that is supposed to be from calif anymore and encourage others to do the same.

  16. Why are the prices that medical patients pay for their medicine the same as the black market prices for the same amount?

  17. Ck31…back in the 70’s a lot of people made 25-30 per hour. Can you say Reaganomics.
    And imo it failed cause at the last minute there was a big push to make employers think they would have no recourse against stoned workers.
    Lesson learned. Next time reformers will be prepared for that argument.

  18. “For the same reason, and with more anger, most of the growers from Northern California’s fertile Humboldt and Mendocino counties were against Prop. 19. The initiative lost in both. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and one of the oldest warriors in the national drug policy fight, says the growers rebelled when they decided there was ‘no way post-prohibition for anyone to fetch $15 or $25 for a gram of dried vegetable matter.’ People currently making $25 to $30 an hour trimming weed in Humboldt imagined their jobs reduced to minimum-wage work or eliminated entirely.”
    David762, #18, “….
    Blaming the failure of Prop 19 on the “Nay” votes from those who have been involved in this ‘green revolution’ is fraudulent and self-serving. If Prop 19 is to succeed in 2012 it will need to be completely re-written, in order to shed the appearance of catering to special interests, i.e. Richard Lee.
    A new “populist” re-legalization effort needs to address the concerns of those “Mom&Pop” cultivators that voted “Nay”, as well as addressing the huge disparity in the rights and liberties of cannabis users from one locality to another — …
    There is absolutely no way that the legalization of marijuana is going to do anything good for those profiting from its black market distribution now. There is nothing about marijuana that suggests it should cost any more than tea before taxes. Tea takes more work to pick and process than marijuana ever will and there is absolutely no other reason to be growing tea except for what is in the leaves. Marijuana can be grown for the intoxicating parts and for seeds and fiber as well. But this is all elementary agriculture and there is nothing to suggest that those who have been milking a cash cow from the black market or the “medical marijuana” dispensaries will survive legalization.
    Only the numbers can say whether the dope dealers and clandestine pot growers in Emerald Triangle are to blame for the defeat of Prop 19. We might also imagine that the hand of Mexican organized crime might have played a role as well. Legalization will do as much damage to their profits, probably more, than it will the client driven Mom & Pop operations. But it should also be said that the rest who voted against Prop 19 certainly imagined that Prop 19 was a tool of these very same growers and distributors. As a strategy for the next attempt, and for the next attempt after that if it fails, is to confront the voters with this easily observed reality. We need to explain to the voters that in opposing legalization, those social conservatives and Law and Order enthusiasts have common cause with the rich hippies and Mexican gangsters who profit from the criminalization of marijuana.
    We also need to explain to the voters that supporters of legalization reject the entrenched marijuana subculture that drives black market distribution and the “medical marijuana” dispensaries. For many who support Prop 19, legalization is the end of the Golden Age of pot smoking and its endless hype. No more teenage pot smokers robbing their parents blind to be hip or ruining their lives with pointless arrests. No more sitting around stoned as a social or political act. The legalization of marijuana is as much a “conservative” cause as it is a “liberal” one.

  19. I am beginning to believe that a lot of our gov’t officials are against legalization due to fear of cartel reprisals. I think it is highly possible that a lot of the drug lords have threatened them and their families if they support ending the drug war. It’s kind of a stretch, but I can’t figure it out otherwise. These people in office know for a fact the money potential cannabis has – why else would they be against legal weed otherwise? Just a thought.

  20. I voted to for Prop 19. When I stand before God some day I will not be ashamed of my decision to try to end the evil. It is sad that a few major growers convinced their community to vote against it. Oh well, I hate to say it but, “I’ve got mine.” and the rest of you will have to come up with a better written bill next time. I continue to think that suing the government over safe access is the best way to go. To Bad the Americans in California voted to keep the status quo.

  21. Genesis the Faith;
    Well put, my brother of the faith. When we all come together and end prohibition ourselves, we can end this war on our faith and our God given rights. I continue to do all that I can to help promote the faith and help end prohibition. You, brother are truly enlightened and your words are real and from your heart. The time is now! I couldn’t agree more.
    Lake Co. Tn. colony

  22. It’s a capitalist society, and it understands only money. When I comment on weed articles in our local online newspaper, I always ask those supporting prohibition where the money for enforcement is going to come from.
    I tell them: don’t look at me; and don’t expect to put my children in debt, either. That little shell game is over.

  23. 30 Bar-T Genesis the Faith. Lake Co, Tn. Colony
    Well my brother! All of us [brethren] of the Faith are together or coming together rapidly – solidly together with God as our witness. Nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing, can destroy our spirit and God’s spirit within as our individual souls.
    mountainDude is solidly on 1-27 SB 0251 – Tennesse’s “Safe Access to Medical Cannabis Act.”
    I’ve posted much of our Objective/Mission, Intent and Purpose, so that others can understand what a Genesist is all about. Russ Belville has asked us to keep it short and to the point, and I have told him – “Message Received” but that everyone is entitled to our religious opinion. We believe in our Faith and its Sacrament, and believe that the “most effective way” to approach federal legalization is through religious use. Let the prohibs fight God, if they think they can.
    More to come my brother. Have a great CDXX Communion and I’ll talk with you on the flip side.
    Genesis the Faith
    San Diego, Ca. Colony

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