Date: Fri, 30 Jul 2010
Subject: #444 Will California Legalize Marijuana?
WILL CALIFORNIA LEGALIZE MARIJUANA?
DrugSense FOCUS Alert #444 – Friday, July 30th, 2010
The AlterNet article below provides a good overview of the current
status of Proposition 19.
Writing Letters to the Editor will be a part of the educational mix
needed to help the proposition pass.
The more good, short, thoughtful letters written the more the
newspapers will consider the issue of importance to their readers –
even if your letter is not printed.
The Media Awareness Project Source Directory for Letters to the Editor
contacts is at http://www.mapinc.org/media.htm
Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jul 2010
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2010 Independent Media Institute
Author: Daniela Perdomo, AlterNet
Note: Daniela Perdomo is a staff writer and editor at AlterNet
Cited: Proposition 19 http://www.taxcannabis.org/
WILL CALIFORNIA LEGALIZE POT?
With Only a Few Months to Go Until the Election, the Campaign to
Legalize Marijuana in California Has Only $50,000 in Cash on Hand.
The Question Now Is: How Can It Win?
Today, at least a third of Americans say they’ve tried smoking weed.
Is it possible that after half a century of increasingly mainstreamed
pot use the public is ready for marijuana to be legal? We may soon
California has long been on the front lines of marijuana policy. In
1996, it became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. This
year, the Tax Cannabis initiative — now officially baptized
Proposition 19 — may very well be the best chance any state has ever
had at legalizing the consumption, possession and cultivation of
marijuana for anyone over 21.
Drug reformers are particularly excited about Prop. 19’s prospects
because the pot reform stars seem to be as aligned as ever here.
Consider the current state of marijuana in California. For one,
medical cannabis has normalized the idea of pot as a legitimate
industry to many of the state’s residents. At least 300,000 and as
many as 400,000 Californians are card-carrying medical marijuana
patients, and the medical pot industry brings in around $100 million
in sales tax revenue each year, according to Americans for Safe Access.
Add to this the fact that at least 3.3 million Californians consume
cannabis each year, a figure culled from a presumably low-ball federal
estimate, meaning the actual incidence rate may be much higher. In
other words, at least one in 10 Californians uses pot every year.
Plus, 38 percent of Californians say they have tried pot at least once
in their lifetimes.
Next, tie the widespread use of this mild substance — which has
proven to be less harmful than alcohol and cigarettes — to the
growing slice of law enforcement resources that are dedicated to
fighting non-violent crimes associated with marijuana. Since 2005,
marijuana arrests have increased nearly 30 percent, totaling 78,000 in
2008, according to figures from the state’s Office of the Attorney
General. Of those arrests, four out of five were for simple
possession. Not surprisingly, this overzealous drug war
disproportionately affects minorities and young people.
All of this in the face of the state’s massive debt — $19 billion for
the month-old fiscal year — which is closing schools, laying off
police officers, and shutting down key public services while
cash-strapped taxpayers foot the bill for a failed, senseless drug
policy. With little money in state and local municipalities’ coffers,
criminalizing marijuana seems a senseless waste of the state’s largest
cash crop. In all, marijuana prohibition is both an economic and a
social issue — and Prop. 19 hopes to convince California voters that
Nov. 2 is the time to end it.
The midterm elections are just over three months away, and Prop. 19 is
seen by many observers as one of the ballot items most likely to
galvanize voters. As the people behind Prop. 19 prepare to launch
their ground campaign in earnest, it’s clear the initiative will be
under a magnifying glass every step of the way.
The question on everyone’s mind is: How do they win?
The reality of the matter is that Prop. 19 has the deck stacked
against it simply because there is no precedent for a voting public of
a state to endorse removing all civil and criminal penalties
associated with adult marijuana use. All preceding efforts have met
sad ends: A 1972 measure also called Prop. 19 failed in California;
more recently, attempts in Alaska, Colorado and Nevada were also
rejected. In the face of decades of federal and state prohibition, it
is still much easier to vote no than yes, even in the face of
convincing arguments to do otherwise.
“There is no template available that shows what you need to do to
achieve victory,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Where Prop. 19 Stands Today
For the past few months since qualifying for the ballot, Prop. 19 has
focused on building up its online support, fund-raising, staffing the
Oakland office, building a coalition, and setting up a network of
volunteers throughout the state who will soon power the ground force.
Over this time, the mainstream media’s coverage of the campaign has
mostly focused on poll numbers.
Polls in April and May found support at 56 percent and 51 percent,
respectively. A SurveyUSA poll released this month shows support at 50
percent, 10 points over those against it. A new Public Policy Polling
poll found the divide to be even greater, with 52 percent supporting
and 36 percent nixing it — and the campaign says these results are
more consistent with its internal polling. But another poll also
released this month, the Field poll, showed that more people oppose
the initiative than support it, at 48 to 44 percent. (This contrasts
with the last Field poll, conducted over a year ago, which found
support at 56 percent.) No matter which numbers you’re looking at
though, 50, 52 or even 56 percent isn’t all that comforting. It’s one
thing to say yes to a pollster, it’s quite another thing to get out
and vote that way.
“Progressive drug reform on the California ballot needs to be polling
in the high 50s or low 60s,” says Stephen Gutwillig, the California
director at the Drug Policy Alliance. “This is because they generally
have nowhere to go but down because of the fear-mongering that usually
occurs at the hands of the law enforcement lobby which tends to not
need as much money to push their regressive fear-based messages.”
Mauricio Garzon, the even-tempered campaign coordinator, admits polls
could be better but is sure that something even more important is
happening. “We’re seeing a legitimization of this issue, politically.
There was a time when this was impossible,” he says. “You reflect on
this and you see a shift in public sentiment and this is what this
campaign has always been about. Making Americans understand how
important this issue is. It’s a real issue and the existing framework
has been devastating to our society.”
Indeed, Tax Cannabis has always been framed as a public education
campaign. In this sense, at least, Prop. 19 is really succeeding —
after all, a lot of people are talking about it.
Prop. 19’s newly hired field director, James Rigdon, thinks marijuana
legalization has a lot more going for it than other issues. “There’s
something appealing about this for everyone — helping the economy,
incarceration issues, personal freedom ideas, public safety concerns.
People from all walks are willing to come out and support us,” Rigdon
tells me. “Our supporters aren’t just Cheech and Chong. They’re
everyday people who support this because it’s good for everybody.”
The multi-layered appeal to ending marijuana prohibition even has some
expert election observers believing that ballot initiatives legalizing
cannabis may be the Democrats’ answer to the gay marriage bans that
drive Republican voters to the polling places. That theory remains to
be tested in November, but what is certain now is that the
far-reaching benefits that come with legalizing the marijuana industry
in California have attracted a broad coalition of supporters of all
In addition to all the major players in the drug reform community,
groups ranging from the NAACP to the ACLU have also signed up as
official endorsers of Prop. 19. So, too, have numerous labor unions,
faith leaders, law enforcement officers, elected officials, and
doctors and physicians. According to Gutwillig, a coalition of
organized labor, civil rights organizations, and the drug policy
reform movement “has not existed before and could be
As the coalition of Prop. 19 supporters grows, so does the mainstream
media’s coverage. Gutwillig believes Prop. 19 has done a “really good
job of defining the way the media is covering it; coming up with new
and interesting ways of talking about the issue. They are talking
about the failures of prohibition without seeming to encourage greater
consumption of marijuana. And the argument that is increasingly made
is that this is not playing out as criminal justice reform, that this
is playing out as a social or cultural or economic issue. The framing
Here Gutwillig is referring to the last statewide drug initiative —
Prop. 5 in 2008. That failed measure was framed as a criminal justice
issue and sought to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation for drug
offenders over harsh criminal consequences. So the Prop. 19 campaign’s
hope may be to learn from the lesson of Prop. 5 and skew away from
criminal justice arguments. But there could be a downside to this approach.
“Prop. 19 is talking about this as more of a jobs, revenue issue,
which plays well for the mainstream media which likes to play up the
fiscal side of it because it ties into larger stories, but a more
sinister interpretation may be that it allows the media to talk about
marijuana reform without talking about marijuana reform,” Gutwillig
This is tied to another worry Gutwillig observes. “The research and
focus groups I’ve seen see the whole revenue thing as gravy — it
matters to people who’ve already made up their minds about supporting
Prop. 19. But it’s not the reason someone is going to come off the
fence. [Talking about revenue] doesn’t resonate with voters, nor
should it,” he says. “But what does resonate is the other side of the
fiscal coin, which is the opportunity to save and redirect scarce law
enforcement resources. That message makes a big difference. People’s
instincts tell them there is something fundamentally hypocritical
about marijuana prohibition.”
Prop. 19 hopes to appeal to the instincts of Californians who believe
the drug war has failed.
The Campaign’s Strategy
As Prop. 19 prepares to fan out across California, it has set two very
important, realistic goals. The first is that it will not try to
change the minds of those who believe marijuana prohibition has been a
success. This means that the campaign is out to mobilize those who
already support Prop. 19, and make sure they show up to vote; it also
means they will focus on convincing those who have some sense that
criminalizing pot has done more harm than good that this measure is
the right solution to this policy problem. The campaign expects the
swing demographics to be comprised mostly of blacks, Latinos, mothers,
and young people.
In its second key strategic move, the campaign will especially focus
on the largest areas of voters most likely to vote in midterm
elections — Los Angeles County, Orange County, the Bay Area, the
Inland Empire, and the Central Valley — rather than spread itself too
thin across the entire state.
As the campaign prepares to begin its on-the-ground outreach over
these next few weeks, the question of financing arises. After all, big
dollars are behind most successful campaigns.
While Tax Cannabis premiered with a lot of fanfare about its financial
backing, the situation is somewhat different now. Richard Lee, the pot
entrepreneur and co-proponent of the initiative, injected $1.4 million
of his money — via Oaksterdam University — to ensure its passage.
While fund-raising has continued at a steady clip, the latest public
filings show that most of the larger cash infusions still come from
S.K. Seymour, LLC, Lee’s umbrella organization that runs Oaksterdam
and other cannabis-related businesses. Despite this, Prop. 19 is
committed to raising small amounts from many people, and the filings
show many small-dollar donations have started to flow in. According to
Lee, the campaign has raised $130,000 online and most of these
donations were under $250.
Yet Lee admits that “everything is on track, except fund-raising.” The
campaign currently has $50,000 in cash. While the campaign has talked
to the major funders of other marijuana measures throughout the
country — people like Peter Louis, George Soros, Bob Wilson, and John
Sperling — none have committed funding yet. All of these men
contributed between $1 million and $2 million each to Prop. 5, the
failed 2008 measure that sought to reform sentencing for drug-related
offenses. A big question remains unanswered: Why are these Prop. 5
donors not funding Prop. 19?
Their non-involvement may be why Garzon says the campaign “can
certainly do a lot with a little.” Prop. 19 has not yet planned for a
mass media campaign, which costs a lot of money. For example, a
statewide TV ad buy for a political candidate in California costs
about $1 million per week. That’s a daunting figure and so Tax
Cannabis will instead be stressing one-to-one public education, which
will take the form of door-to-door canvassing, phone banks and
“We don’t think we need [a mass media campaign] to win. It depends on
our budget — if we have room for it, we will,” Garzon says. “People
are interested enough that we find the person-to-person interaction to
be very successful. When you answer their questions, they’re very
The Prop. 19 campaign will rely heavily on volunteers. Though the
campaign hasn’t yet put out an official appeal, 2,600 people have
already signed on. Many thousands more are expected to comprise the
complete army of volunteers, who will have to learn how to craft
talking points that appeal to different kinds of on-the-fence
Already the campaign has some idea of what those talking points will
be. A town-hall meeting in Mendocino County gave Garzon an opportunity
to see what resonated with voters there. The event was billed as “Life
After Legalization,” and speakers framed the passing of Prop. 19 as an
opportunity to become “the Napa Valley of cannabis,” Garzon said. By
the end of the meeting, a union man had inspired attendees to chant,
For Jerome Urias-Cantu, a law student at Stanford, the key issue is
border safety. In a fund-raising appeal sent out to Prop. 19’s mailing
list, he wrote about a cousin who lived in Ciudad Juarez, just miles
from the California border, who was killed in the escalating drug war
in Mexico. “Oscar had nothing to do with the drug trade, but he was
shot and killed nonetheless,” Urias-Cantu wrote. “That’s why I support
the reform of California’s cannabis laws. The measure will prevent
needless deaths by reducing the profitability of the drug trade and
putting the violent drug cartels out of business.” (The Office of
National Drug Control Policy estimates that Mexican cartels receive 60
percent of their revenue from marijuana sales in the United States.)
Lance Rogers, a volunteer regional director based in San Diego,
believes that besides the border issues, people in his area will be
interested in economic arguments for Prop. 19. “San Diego — like the
state — is in a major fiscal crisis. We have an extreme budget
deficit due to pension problems,” he says.
And as a criminal defense attorney, Rogers has met others like him who
“see the effects of an overly punitive criminal justice system on
marijuana offenses. I see people go to prison for five or seven years
for sales of less than an ounce of marijuana. Granted, these are folks
who have prior felonies or other things going on, but the fact is that
this person is going to prison for $75,000 a year for doing what Prop.
19 would legalize.”
Priscilla A. Pyrk, the regional director for the Inland Empire and the
owner of a medical marijuana collective, thinks dispelling stereotypes
about cannabis consumers and entrepreneurs will be important, too.
“The cannabis industry needs to revamp how people perceive this
industry and its users,” Pyrk says. “That’s why it’s great that we
have a lot of non-traditional cannabis consumers coming on board.
They’re coming out of the closet! Doctors, lawyers, businessmen are
coming out and standing up for the initiative.”
Women, who were key in the effort to legalize medical cannabis and
have more generally helped mainstream pot use, will also be targeted.
According to Richard Lee, soccer moms in particular are a big
undecided group. “We have to educate them about how Prop. 19 will
protect their kids better than the status quo,” he says. “The current
system draws kids into selling and buying cannabis. If alcohol was
illegal, it’d be the same way. There is a forbidden fruit
Stephen Gutwillig agrees: “The campaign must validate moms’ instinct
that there is something whack about marijuana prohibition. The
instinct that marijuana is more like tobacco and alcohol than not, and
safer — which it is — and that there’s no reason that we shouldn’t
be trying to regulate marijuana. They know we’re wasting a lot of law
enforcement resources on this futile attempt to enforce these
As Prop. 19 works on the ground, it will count on the field support of
three organizations. One is NORML, the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws; the second is the Courage Campaign, a
progressive advocacy group with 800,000 members. Arisha Hatch, the
national field director at Courage, estimates that about 500 to 1,000
of its volunteers will be highly involved with the Prop. 19 campaign’s
get-out-the-vote work, which she sees as “the biggest challenge [Prop.
19] will face. We need to get people to actually speak on message and
in a responsible way about what taxing and regulating cannabis will be
“Marijuana legalization is the only thing on the ballot that can
replicate that turnout. I see it as an extremely important issue for
progressives, which is why Courage has made it the initiative we’re
supporting this cycle,” Hatch says.
The final group supporting Prop. 19 on the ground is Students for
Sensible Drug Policy, which will manage the campus outreach and focus
on bringing out the youth vote.
Aaron Houston, the executive director of SSDP, says he is committed to
proving the conventional wisdom about youth voters and midterm
elections wrong: “What we’re going to change with this election is
demonstrate that marijuana on the ballot motivates young people to
turn out and vote. Opportunistic politicians will find out that
marijuana increases youth turnout and that speaking out against drug
reform is to their peril.”
Scoping Out the Opposition
Prop. 19’s most vocal opposition comes from the top. Gubernatorial
candidates Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown don’t see eye to eye on much,
but they both seem to have decided it’s politically expedient to
oppose the measure. Senator Dianne Feinstein also recently came out
“I was at a party with doctors who said they used to light up with
Jerry Brown,” says Garzon. “But you know, the reality is that we know
that politicians aren’t going to lead on this issue.”
Feinstein, for her part, refers to a Rand study released this month to
justify the idea that “if Proposition 19 passes, the only thing that
would be certain is drug use would go up and the state of California
would run afoul of federal law and risk losing federal funding.”
But if you read the actual study, you learn that Rand is still rather
conservative in its ability to prognosticate much: “The proposed
legislation in California would create a large change in policy. As a
result it is uncertain how useful these studies are for making
projections about marijuana legalization.”
Yet even a rather staid study like Rand still sees positives such as
tax revenues, which the state has projected could be as high as $1.4
billion annually. As for Feinstein’s claim, there is no reason to
believe Prop. 5 would affect federal funding (which Feinstein will
fight for anyway). As Richard Lee says, similar arguments were used
against Prop. 215 but the medical marijuana measure has not resulted
in less funding coming to California. And regarding the senator’s
assertion that drug use will go up, the opposite may be true. Other
studies show that marijuana use among youth has actually dropped since
medical marijuana was legalized in California. There was a 47 percent
decline among the state’s ninth-graders from 1996 to 2006.
“Sen. Feinstein opposed Prop. 215 although she has now come out in
favor of medical marijuana. It’s political math,” Lee says. “With
Prop. 215, all the major politicians and statewide candidates were
against it but it passed with 56 percent of the vote. So if you look
at the polling, the voters don’t trust politicians on this.”
Currently, the No on Prop. 19 movement seems relegated to a few small
groups. The most well-funded one is called Public Safety First, which
claims endorsements from the California Chamber of Commerce, the
California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic
Officers’ Association. The group is headed by John Lovell, the
lobbyist for the police and narcotic officers’ unions. Public Safety
First has under 250 fans on Facebook — compared to the over 120,000
Prop. 19 has — and James Rigdon, the Prop. 19 field director, says at
least 20 of them are fans of Prop. 19, too. “Some of them even work
here,” he laughs.
A couple volunteer opposition groups have cropped up, too. Citizens
Against Legalizing Marijuana seems to have little if any money behind
it. Another such group, Nip It In The Bud, boasts little more than a
Web site, which depicts a skeleton holding a scroll reading: “Fix
California with pot??? NOT!”
Prop. 19 seems more concerned with opposition within the movement than
“From our own side there has been some fragmentation as there is in
all social movements. There’s just different people with different
ideas,” Garzon says. “We’re open to criticism but we’re trying to do
things responsibly. We can’t please everybody but we’ve tried to craft
something that makes sense to a mother in Los Angeles, too. This isn’t
ultimately about the right to smoke, it’s about taxes in our
communities, a failed system, a public health issue.”
I told Garzon that a few marijuana activists had written me to say
they were upset about the local control aspect of Prop. 19 — counties
can decide whether to legalize the sale of cannabis. One had called
the regulatory framework confusing and a bureaucratic disaster waiting
“We’re not instituting a state government aspect, true. But it’ll come
down to who do you want to give your tax dollars to? Local control is
what we need on so many issues but in particular this issue,” he said.
Local governments can decide “ideologically, culturally, operationally
what is right for them. What it does is allows the best of the models
to bubble up to the top. If say, one place does it horribly wrong,
then Pasadena can wait and see how Davis does it. Local governments
can decide not to pass it this year — but those who don’t pass on the
opportunity will take advantage of that extra revenue.”
Priscilla A. Pyrk, the Prop. 19 organizer in the Inland Empire, also
hopes to assuage some opposition from within the medical cannabis
community: “Prop. 19 does not have anything to do with the medical
side of cannabis. Prop. 215 stays intact. This can help medical
cannabis patients by alleviating any of the judgment that is currently
focused on them.”
Not Much Time Left
How do they win? No one can say for sure, but the fund-raising
strategy will be of paramount importance so the get-out-the-vote game
can succeed. This midterm election cycle, the Prop. 19 campaign has to
convince voters that marijuana prohibition hits on many important
issues vital to their lives.
Going forward, the campaign will be heavily publicizing a recently
released report from the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office
which finds that Prop. 19 would put police priorities where they
belong, generate hundreds of millions in revenue and protect the public.
The campaign needs to hammer in several points to stand a chance. Its
messaging has to emphasize how marijuana prohibition has been a
costly, senseless disaster. The drug war has strengthened and enriched
violent cartels while law enforcement resources have been wasted on
arresting non-violent marijuana users, ruining lives and siphoning
from key public services that are sorely needed by all Californians.
Prop. 19 must also make clear that taxing and regulating pot will make
it harder for minors to access pot — and that medical marijuana has
proven that increased regulation decreases use by kids. Finally, the
campaign ought to appeal to voters by reminding them that this
initiative is their opportunity to take a stand where politicians have
been reluctant to act. In other words, the time is now.
If the campaign is successful, Californians will wake up on Nov. 3 to
find that marijuana prohibition is finally over. If it isn’t, at least
we will be a step closer to that possibility.
Suggestions for writing letters are at our Media Activism Center
For facts about marijuana please see http://www.drugwarfacts.org/cms/node/53
Prepared by: Richard Lake www.mapinc.org