Mary Jane didn’t do very well last night. Especially in California, where the much anticipated push to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for the first time in the nation’s history was killed by 10 percentage points, 45 percent for, 55 percent against. See the National Organization for Marijuana Reform Laws entire scorecard here.
Experts will say there were a number of things working against California’s Proposition 19 — which would have legalized personal use and allowed local governments to regulate and tax at will — not the least of which was the mood, which was and is clearly dominated by the Tea Party/Republican/Anything-but-Democrat zeitgeist. Even though California looks virtually unscathed this morning compared to other states, like say Ohio and Pennsylvania, which practically went red overnight, let’s just say this wasn’t the best time for such an ambitious proposal — which would’ve required a huge cultural leap of faith for most people outside of Northern California and was opposed by not only the Republican establishment, but by the leading Democratic establishment fighting for their own political lives, too.
It didn’t help that weeks before the contest, the Obama Administration announced that it cared not a fig for states’ rights, that it would continue to prosecute marijuana offenses under the federal prohibition, whether Proposition 19 was passed or not (shades of Bush’s drug czar John Walters, flying to Nevada in order to kill the state’s own legalization initiative during the 2002 election).
A friend who lives and works in San Francisco predicted it all this summer, saying the pro-legalization movement, while seemingly on a hot streak with its argument that taxing pot would bring millions into the state’s beleaguered coffers, had jumped the gun and should have waited for a friendlier political climate. He noted that there were holes and flaws in the proposal that even proponents had been grumbling about, and that he feared that a big loss would set the movement back irreparably.
The fact is, traditional Republican forces, which have always outnumbered their conservative/libertarian brethren — like Ron Paul and Dana Rohrabacher and Gary Johnson — on this issue, spent a lot of money fighting Prop 19, making it again, a social question — and a threat to employers and the workplace — and tapping into the old fears of Reefer Madness. In the end, they made sure that voters, already weary this year of the liberal scourge, acted on these impulses appropriately on Nov. 2
It has seemed to work in other key ballot initiatives, too. In Arizona this morning, an initiative to legalize medical marijuana was too close to call. Meanwhile, voters in normally progressive Oregon shot down an initiative to create non-profit dispensaries so that it can get its own medical marijuana law off the ground (it’s kind of hard to have a medical marijuana program without a way to get medical marijuana to the sick people who need it), and South Dakotans again killed a proposal to legalize medical marijuana in their state.
NORML is seeking that silver lining this morning and that is to be expected. What we can say for the initiative in California, it managed to get 45 percent of the electorate on board and it comes at a time in which there is an obvious nationwide shift in attitudes towards legalization, or at least decriminalization, and an acknowledgment that the War on Drugs has been a catastrophic failure. Those feelings are not about to disappear with one bad election.
“Throughout this campaign, even our opponents conceded that America’s present marijuana prohibition is a failure,” said NORML’s Paul Armentano last night. “They recognize that the question now isn’t ‘Should be legalize and regulate marijuana,’ but ‘How should we legalize and regulate marijuana?’”
“How” is right. Looking at the effects of the Tea Party on the national discourse, I would start by emphasizing the constitutionality of the federal marijuana prohibition, states’ rights and individual freedom. Why not make it an issue of patriotism? If this election is going to mark a shift in political strategy – why not start here?