California Marijuana Initiatives, Then and Now

“The last time an initiative to legalize pot outright was put before California voters, in 1972, it was trounced.” wrote a San Francisco Chronicle reporter in a front page article today which you may read at

While the statement is true, there are differences between the 1972 California Marijuana Initiative, Proposition 19, and this year’s much more complex initiative which you may read at Here are some facts to consider:

The newspaper article noted “… that opposition to legalization in California polled at around 80 percent until voters authorized pot in 1996 for medical use. By the early 2000s, those in favor of legalization were polling above 40 percent. Last year, with the state deep in budgetary crisis, a Field Poll cracked the halfway mark and put support in California at 56 percent.”

Just before election day in 1972 the respected Field Poll stated that support for that initiative was at 15%. But the election results came in at 33.4%.  What happened?  The largest factor was voter turnout. What was most significant about the turnout was that about 7% of the voters voted ONLY on Proposition 19! If the reform community is well mobilized something similar could happen this November.

Did you know that Proposition 19 was the last initiative placed on the ballot in California by people power alone?  There were no paid signature gatherers for that initiative.

In 1972 all the California newspapers that we knew of editorialized strongly against the initiative, except one. The Weed News newspaper in Weed, California editorialized in favor of the initiative. When I visited the editor he told me he did not know anything about marijuana but thought that it was not the business of anybody what any person wanted to smoke.

Today, months before election day, we are already seeing some editorial page opinions which support the initiative. See

This year we will see hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, spent both for and against the initiative. In 1972 the total spent was all on our side, perhaps a quarter million in all.

Finally, the end result of the 1972 initiative was that as a result of the vote the issue had a respectable constituency. The draconian California law of the time which could result in years in the state’s prisons for a few joints was changed by the Moscone Act of 1976 to the current one ounce misdemeanor law. Those results are analyzed at

Win or lose, this year’s California initiative will move the issue of legalizing marijuana forward, both in California and nationally.