"There Will Be Change Awfully Soon": Prop 19 Reax III
A reader writes:
As a California resident, I have personally been exposed to many of the Prop 19 reactions you have been posting. However, the prospect of some kid rotting in jail the rest of his live because of a pot bust in California just ain't gonna happen, due to Schwarzeneggar's signing of the decriminalization law last month. I think that took wind out of the sails of Prop 19, and made it easier for many folks (parents of young kids especially) to vote against it.
While I think there are reasons for some optimism even in the wake of Prop 19's failure, the California decriminalization isn't one of them - it's a reinforcement of the worst parts of prohibition masquerading as progress.
What it would mean to me, if I was a non-medical marijuana user in California, is that if I was caught with an ounce of pot I'd bought illegally from some murderous Mexican cartel I'd get off with a fine, but if I sprouted a single seed in my home I'd go to prison. That said, I think Prop 19 still did a lot of good, both in lessons in how not to try to legalize and in making the discussion more open and mainstream.
I think the future of legalization might actually be here in Colorado; there's some chance a bill could be put up here in 2012 and I think it's a better place to try than California. Colorado is the only state right now that has a large and thriving legal marijuana industry that's licensed and regulated by the state. The state just made seven or eight million dollars from its first round of medical marijuana center - the official term now, not dispensary - applications, and we'll have had three years of that income by November 2012.
Our conservatives are a little bit more libertarian, our liberals are a little more pragmatic, an entire third of our electorate doesn't want to be identified with either party, and our new governor-elect was mayor of Denver while the medical marijuana boom happened. It's also much cheaper to run a statewide campaign here. I think in a presidential year with a good campaign it could pass.
Here in San Francisco, of course I know many people who voted in favor. But many who I thought would do so said they didn't. Quite a few had the same reason: that is would still be illegal under federal law.
They thought it made no sense to create such a dichotomy and that it would lead to all kinds of legal confusion and problems without making marijuana truly legal. Despite being fine with people legally smoking pot, they thought this would not accomplish that and just create more problems for the state, especially after Eric Holder told us that he would prosecute, unlike with medical marijuana. If the federal government had no role in this and it were entirely up to the states, I think it would be much easier to get legalization passed here.
Furthermore, people elsewhere may not be aware that the current medical marijuana laws already effectively make recreational use legal. There are ads everywhere for cheap Internet prescriptions. Anyone who currently wants to use pot both recreationally and legally is presented with no real obstacle - just sign up for a prescription 24/7 on the Web for a few dollars.
Lastly, current "medical" users often opposed Prop 19 because they said it would take away their rights to smoke in public and smoke in the presence of minors, among other things (see here). The stoner community seemed very opposed to the whole thing.
Illegal pot is doomed in the long term - demographically that is. My wife and I had dinner last night with two Republicans friends (one country club, one more theocon). My wife and I are liberal. All four of us are 27, and all four of us thought it was silly that Prop 19 wasn’t passed and hoped that pot would be legalized. None of us are users, so we don’t really even have a dog in the fight. I see us as a good cross-section of American political thought as any four people could be (though we’re all white, for what it's worth) and we all agree that prohibition is pointless and a waste of effort and resources.
Some of your readers have said that Prop 19 wasn’t the right path to legalization. That might be true if they didn’t get the specific polices right. But people should continue to evolve the policy solution, because there will be a electoral majority for this type of change awfully soon.
Lack of youth turnout doomed Prop 19 in the 2010 midterms. Legalization folks are planning for 2012, not 2014, because of the better chances at a youth vote in national election years. The only thing I could think of that would get such large numbers of Democratic voters to the 2014 midterm polls would be as a protest against President Palin. If that happens, we have bigger things to worry about than pot.