What’s Next for Prop 19?

In spite of increasing support for marijuana legalization, California’s much anticipated Proposition 19 failed to pass in the 2010 midterm elections, garnering the support of only 46% of California voters. Although the figure falls short of pre-election expectations, it remains an unprecedented level of support thus far for a statewide legalization initiative.

“Tax and Control” was the main mantra surrounding the measure, which outlined provisions for the legalization of small-scale cultivation and possession, granting local governments regulation and taxation privileges.  Prop 19 would have made California’s marijuana laws the most liberal to date in the United States.

Yes We Cannabis… Eventually

While Prop 19’s failure was a disappointment to many supporters, it represents an important gain in the national legalization campaign.  “While we didn’t bring in enough votes tonight to pass Proposition 19, we know that we have achieved an enormous moral victory,” declared Richard Lee, long-time marijuana activist and chief proponent of Prop 19.

Many considered bringing marijuana legalization to the forefront of national politics a victory. National attention and public endorsement by figures such as former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, former San Jose police chief and Hoover Fellow Joseph McNamara, and groups like Clergy Against Prohibition helped transform legalization from a countercultural issue to one of mainstream significance.

This shift in public perception makes many supporters hopeful for the future. “There are millions of people across the country who are prepared to help finish the job they started here today when we come back to the polls stronger than ever in 2012,” explained Lee.

Next Steps

Publicity from Prop 19 propelled increased discourse across all states, with evidence of support for legalization increasing.  On November 9, U.S. Federal Judge Juan Toruella announced his support of marijuana legalization, leading the pack of federal court figures to take a stance on the issue.

According to a recent Gallup poll, national support of marijuana legalization is on par with support in California. The study reported that 46% of Americans are in favor of legalization, and only 50% oppose it. Predictions for 2012 indicate that this increasing support will be reflected on the ballots of several states, with rumors of legalization initiatives circulating for California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington.

Post-midterm goals for the campaign are twofold: increasing influence across broader voting demographics and combating apathy among already core supporters. A popular explanation for Prop 19’s underperformance in these midterms was not lack of support so much as an inability to effectively encourage proponents to show up to the polls.

This poor turnout could be due to the fact that marijuana is simply too easy to come by illegally. As covered by the Stanford Review pre-election, one anonymous campus dealer was unsure that legalization would have any effect on campus demand: “I don’t think it’s gonna make much of a difference,” he explained. “Consumption will more or less stay the same. People who really want to smoke pot can do it anyway right now.”

Either way, youth voter turnout represented an extremely important component of Prop 19’s successes this election: “The issue is generational. Fully 70 percent of 18-29 year-olds are in favor of legalization. And, many of the biggest contributors to the campaign were younger and based in Silicon Valley, representing a changing of the guard of political influence and leadership,” explained Richard Lee.

Increasing Votes

According to Gallup, the national percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds in support of marijuana legalization is 61%. However, 18-29 year olds, a demographic with a record of supporting of legalization initiatives, also has a record of irregular voting. Successfully encouraging more voters in this age group to come out to register next election could mean big gains for marijuana legalization.

Nevertheless, American youth cannot be cast as single-issue voters.  For people under 40, Prop 19 came in as the third most significant issue on average these elections. Other social and fiscal issues also had important roles in attracting voters to the polls these midterm elections.

“Prop 19 didn’t change my mind about voting. I care much more about abortion, taxes, foreign policy, and fiscal issues than I do about weed,” explained one Stanford student for which marijuana was not a significant voting platform.

As a member of a California college campus, he still recognizes the significance of marijuana legalization in many students’ minds: “I think the stereotype that stoners wouldn’t go out and vote for this because they are lazy is false.”

Increasing votes for marijuana legalization from any demographic in time for the 2012 elections will require the cooperation of activists across a number of social and fiscal issues.

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