Jonah Raskin : Prop 19 Up in Smoke

Photo by Lucretious / stock.xchng.

Up in smoke:
Cannabis initiative post mortem

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / November 7, 2010

SAN FRANCISCO — I spent Election Day at Prop 19 Headquarters in Oakland, California, and witnessed the final, tumultuous hours of the campaign to legalize marijuana. Not legalize it once and for all. To be precise, legalize possession of one ounce or less by a person over the age of 21, and cultivation in a 25-square-foot area.

Fifty four percent of the voters cast ballots against 19 and 46% of the voters cast ballots for it. It’s hard to argue with those percentages and, if you believe that the number of votes cast for and against is the crucial factor, than 19 lost.

That’s what big media is saying and that’s what law enforcers are also saying. The supporters of 19 have been saying that 19 won, that the 3,350,000 or so people who voted for it shows that marijuana is here to stay, and that sooner or later marijuana will be legalized.

“Demographics, economics and principle all favor the ultimate demise of marijuana prohibition,” Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said soon after the votes were counted. He added, “Marijuana isn’t going to legalize itself, but momentum is building like never before among Americans across the political spectrum who think it’s time to take marijuana out of the closet and out of the criminal justice system.”

Nadelmann is absolutely right when he says that marijuana won’t legalize itself. Indeed, it will take ingenuity, organization, and new strategies to persuade some of the nearly 4 million people who voted against 19 to change their minds.

In the 1960s, momentum to legalize pot built like never before, and hippies predicted that it would be legalized very soon. But that didn’t happen. The same could happen again, unless there are profound changes in strategy by the pro-legalization movement.

By and large, law enforcers want marijuana to remain illegal. By and large, commercial marijuana growers, and their friends and neighbors in California, want it to remain illegal too. The police don’t want to lose their funding and their jobs; the growers don’t want a drop in the price of pot and a dent in their pocketbooks.

Prop 19 was poorly written; even advocates for legalization pointed to its inconsistencies, legalese, and confused wording. Prop 19 left it up to individual counties in California to decided whether to implement the measure. Citizens in one county would be able to have an ounce or less if they were 21 years of age or older, while citizens in an adjacent county would not have the same legal protections. That was a recipe for disaster.

Shortly before Election Day, former Mexican President Vicente Fox commented on 19 in a radio interview. “How great it would be for California to set this example,” he said. “May God let it pass. The other U.S. states will have to follow step.” His sentiments were widely appreciated in the movement to end the war on marijuana.

All around the world, the citizens of the world look to California to set a positive example, and California did set the example for medical marijuana, and 13 other states followed its lead. It might not be helpful, however, to look to California to lead the way again. Other states, such as Colorado, have implemented medical marijuana in cleaner, clearer ways that California.

American Puritanism, the American work ethic, and the American suspicion of pleasure and joy also contributed to the Prohibition of marijuana. Millions of Californians don’t like the idea of their fellow citizens smoking pot at parties, driving on pot, arriving at work stoned, having sex stoned, and eating stoned. To make marijuana legal it will also mean eroding American Puritanism — no easy feat.

What seems especially noteworthy of the Prop 19 campaign is that many in law enforcement came out in favor of legalization. They went against the tide of law enforcers who think of marijuana as the drug of choice of the hippies, and who are still fighting the battles of the 1960s.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the defeat of 19, very little seems to have changed in California in the marijuana world. Stoners, heads, and medical marijuana patients are rolling joints and smoking them. Marijuana growers are planting seeds; dispensaries are selling pot. Doctors are recommending marijuana to their patients.

Prop 19 did profoundly change attitudes, and yet now that the election is over it’s as though 19 never happened. After so much time and effort, it’s hard to believe. Prop 19 might be a foundation to build upon, and yet given the volatile political scene and political amnesi, it seems likely that the next time a pro-marijuana measure comes along, activists will have to start all over again with a clean slate.

That might not be a bad idea.

[Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California and a professor at Sonoma State University.]

The Rag Blog

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4 Responses to Jonah Raskin : Prop 19 Up in Smoke

  1. Anonymous says:

    Yes, poorly written and destined to be corporatized. the 25 square foot provision is about enough to grow one plant.

    Had 19 passed, one would have seen legal challenges by homeowners and land owner associations to to the state limit of six plants per patient under 215. The matter would have ended up in more arrests and more court battles.

    What is not clearly known, is that it is your doctor who decides the amount of marijuana that one MUST have under 215. So, say if a doctor says that due to the fact the medicine can only be taken in the form of edibles by some patients, the amount needed of the raw material would be much more. It takes pounds of the stuff to make butter which is the way many patients take their medicine for they do not wish to smoke the herb.

    Jonah is perhaps right that builing on the success of the close to 4 million voters who chose to vote for the iniative, not counting law enforcement who also supported it, will not create the foundation for futher fights over the issue in California. However, it might for as Raskin notes, the issue will never go away and with present and future generations of youth using the herb for recreational purposes, it certainly will continue to be an issue.

    From the point of view of many medical marijuana advocates the fact the ballot measure lost is a relief. With the court system so corrupted had the issue of the amount one could grow come up as a conflict of interest with 215, it would have been likely that 215 would be accorded a seat in the historical garbage bin in favor of less growing abilities.

    What is heartening is the amount of people who see the issue as little more than police harrassment. However, the fact that we live in corporate America means that had it been legalized a few ‘registered’ (cronyism cannot be dismissed) growers would have been able to set up large operations to assure that the herb went from the corporate farm into Seven Eleven. Not only would this have put small, family farms out of business, but it would have meant that once again the corporations would have control over another resource. For this reason don’t blink, for you might find the real protagonists in this drama are the corporations, many who wish to see, much like the wine industry, the herb legalized for centralized profits.

  2. Cannabis is legal for adults to possess, use and grow in small amounts in Alaska and has been since 1975 thanks to that state’s constitutional privacy protections.

    Medical users were accorded fewer plants than all adults, however, so most AK medical users choose simply to exercise their rights as free citizens.

    It is not legal to buy or sell cannabis in AK, however. Until cannabis in all of its many form, including hemp products, are allowed in the legal marketplace, prohibition’s illegal restraint of trade will continue to benefit Big Oil, Big Cotton, Big Pharma, Big Forestry, Big Corn, Big Tobacco, and other entrenched capital interests. If I had to choose, I would damn sure rather have Big Weed!!

    Prohibition costs each and every taxpayer and citizen untold thousands of dollars annually in failed enforcement attempts and, more importantly, by depriving us of the renewable, biodegradeable, inexpensive products this miraculous plant can provide.

  3. Steve Russell says:

    Why did it have to be so complicated?

    Section One repeals all criminal penalties except failure to pay the marijuana tax.

    Section Two sets the tax rate with a sunset provision so the legislature must revisit the question.

    That local option stuff is very hard to deal with in the real world. Texas has it as to alcohol and it still causes trouble.

  4. Bill Meacham says:

    Big government and big corporations want to control everything. Medical marijuana is a way to restrict supply so certain providers get rich. The medical marijuana lobby was against Prop 19, as was the liquor lobby. To make it legal to grow your own would not be in their financial interests. It’ll be an uphill battle, but it is heartening that the proponents did as well as they did.

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