A Disadvantage for California's Marijuana Campaign

Marijuana legalization appears politically viable in California these days, as polling shows the legalization ballot measure, Prop. 19, as being competitive at the very least. Field Research showed Prop. 19 last week at 44% yes vs. 48% no; SurveyUSA's automated polling showed 50% yes vs. 40% no. Not bad for the measure's supporters.

But Prop. 19 could suffer from an extraneous factor: the high-profile candidates running for office this fall, who aren't the types to excite pro-marijuana turnout.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, a mainstay of California Democratic politics for decades, may not drive the young, marginal, and unaffiliated turnout that's necessary for marijuana legalization to pass. Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democratic incumbent, appears to have a strong liberal base but similarly isn't the type of candidate to energize a wide swath of disaffected and unattached voters who think pot should be legal.

Perhaps even worse for Prop. 19 are the Republican candidates at the top of the ticket, as they could cost Prop. 19 some Republican-leaning votes.

This looks like a year where marijuana legalization could actually benefit from the dominant movement in Republican politics right now: the Tea Party, that segment of highly energized voters that contains a powerful libertarian bent. With Ron Paul supporters potentially coming out strong in November, one could expect something like marijuana legalization to pick up a few votes from Republican leaners--more, for instance, than it would have in the Bush years. And Republican support for Prop. 19 could actually be important, in a close vote: Field showed that 31% of California Republicans and 46% of independents support Prop. 19. Some of those, at least, are likely Tea-Party-esque, libertarian-minded conservatives.

But the Tea Party may not show up to vote in California this fall, at least not as forcefully as if different Republicans were running. They don't seem too excited about either gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman or Senate candidate Carly Fiorina, both of whom secured their nominations by defeating fiscally conservative rivals, Steve Poizner and Chuck DeVore--two candidates who would have riled up the Tea Party vote. With the Tea Party contingent unenthused about Whitman and Fiorina, it's safe to say that California's Republican electorate will have less of a libertarian bent in 2010.

Then again, as Joshua Green points out, marijuana initiatives can potentially help Democrats win elections. So all of this conjecture may be wrong, and Prop. 19 may simply propel Brown and Boxer to triumph. But as far as November tickets go, Prop. 19 could have done better.