Pot legalization likely to be back in 2012

When the team behind Proposition 19 pot legalization measure conceded last night, it was with a strong message that they would be back for another try soon.

In fact, they sounded a lot like Proposition 8 opponents, who pledged they would soon be back with an initiative to legalize same-sex marriage. And both could be back in 2012, for the same reason – demographic trends are on their side.

Prop. 19 lost by 7.8 points, or 566,000 votes. Demographic trends alone suggest much of this margin will disappear in the next two years.

Exit polling conducted by the Los Angeles Times found that over two-thirds of voters over 65 opposed Prop. 19. Nearly that many voters between 18 and 24, 64 percent, supported the initiative. This is actually more of an age division than existed for Prop. 8, which was supported by about 60 percent of voters over 65 and opposed by a similar number of voters under 30.

“They won by scaring the old people,” said Terry Nelson, a former federal agent who is a member of the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. The No on 19 website, for instance, prominently featured an image of a wrecked school bus turned on its side.

Assuming this election’s voters continue to vote the same way each time there is a pot measure, this factor alone would chop at least 100,000 votes a year off of the No on 19 margin over two years.

It’s also not clear that everyone who voted no on 19 would vote the same way on a measure with different language. The initiative was criticized by some for not allowing employers to fire employees who test positive for marijuana. Medical marijuana patients and dispensary owners criticized it for not building in enough protections for current medical cannabis patients.

“I’m not opposed to marijuana legalization if it is done in the right way,” said Roger Salazar, the chief spokesman for No on 19.

Meanwhile, nearly a million people currently aged 16 and 17 will turn 18 over that time. Assuming a quarter of them turn out for the 2012 race which will determine the reelection of President Barack Obama, and that at least 64 percent vote for legalization, this could cut 70,000 or more votes off the No on 19 margin.

Prop. 8 lost by a smaller percentage, 4.5 points, but this equaled a slightly larger number of votes, 600,000 due to the higher turnout presidential election of 2008, where over 11 million Californians cast ballots. Same-sex marriage supporters opted not to come back to the ballot this year, and are likely to instead opt for the presidential election in 2012, where more young voters are likely to come out.

But the marijuana legalization side has another factor working in their favor. Where those who want same-sex marriage were pushing for a “no” vote in 2008, next time out they will have to push for a harder-to-get “yes.” Pot proponents would be pushing again for a “yes,” and doing so with the 46 percent they got this time out as a starting point.

It may be a different team the next time out. Even as Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the driving force behind Prop. 19, was inviting his parents onstage and vowing to fight on, he also acknowledged that he did not have the funds for another run.

Still, money is likely to show up. Billionaire financier George Soros, a frequent funder of progressive causes, put in $1 million late in the campaign – more than triple the amount that the No on 19 campaign gathered for the entire year.

There will also likely be pot liberalization measures on the ballot in several places around the country. California Democratic Party chairman John Burton, who spoke out several times in favor of Prop. 19, and others have identified these as a way to get out the youth vote, though this week’s results didn’t show that.

Any repeat of Prop. 19, though, will likely go forward once again without high profile Democratic support. All the top Democratic candidates in California – from Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer on down – were on the record against it. Eric Holder, U.S. attorney general under Obama, made repeated threats to “vigorously enforce” federal marijuana laws.  
Dan Rush, a Democratic Party delegate and a union representative with United Food & Commercial Workers Union who was a leading spokesman for Prop. 19, said he understands why so many top Democrats ran away from the measure. And, he added, most voters understand.

“The top of the ticket didn’t need any more missiles fired at them,” Rush said. “Proposition 19 is a missile that would have been used by Meg Whitman, Steve Cooley and Abel Maldonado.”

Want to see more stories like this? Sign up for The Roundup, the free daily newsletter about California politics from the editors of Capitol Weekly. Stay up to date on the news you need to know.

Sign up below, then look for a confirmation email in your inbox.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: