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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Prop 19 Goes Up In Smoke

Neon Tommy |
November 2, 2010 | 11:19 a.m. PDT

Proposition 19 will be defeated at the polls Tuesday, projections based on exit poll data and early votes show, as California voters decided against legalizing marijuana. 

With 2 percent of the vote in, Prop 19 was down 43 to 57 percent. However, three universities ran out of ballots, according to Yes on 19 campaign.

The ballot initiative had support among young voters across college campuses, but ultimately Californians are saying that the potential revenue increase for the state from taxing marijuana is not worth it.  If passed, Proposition 19 would have legalized marijuana for recreational use in nonpublic places, allowed local governments to regulate activities in their regions, permitted the collection of fees and taxes on marijuana and authorized various criminal and civil penalties.  

"Voters are in foul moods, so they tend to vote against issues," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "It’s like when a child tells Santa Claus his Christmas wishes--if Santa’s in a foul mood, he’s going to say no."

Proponents of the measure argued that passage would allow local governments to tax usage in order to raise revenue or to offset any costs associated with marijuana regulation. The California state legislature had estimated that taxing domestically grown marijuana (a previously untaxed $14 billion industry) would bring in $1.4 billion a year.

The No On 19 Campaign rebutted these claims, saying Tuesday: "Support for Prop 19 is evaporating faster than bong water at Burning Man. Californians have discovered that the claims of benefits made by proponents just aren't true. Prop 19 cannot guarantee 'billions' in revenue to the state; it would make the job of law enforcement more difficult, not less; and recent studies show the initiative would have little impact on drug cartels. No matter where Californians stand on pot legalization, this is not the initiative they were looking for."

Californians consume an estimated 500 tons of pot each year. While legalization could have increased consumption by 50 percent or more, it would have also cut the price of weed by roughly 80 percent.

The poorly written legislation had many red flags, each of which could have caused a voter to check the opposing box.  Under the measure, employers would not have been able to pre-emptively remove workers who smell of/look like they are under the influence of marijuana, even if they perform sensitive jobs like operating heavy machinery or running medical procedures and tests; they could only to take action after an accident. 

Voters also expressed concerns over the federal implications, as marijuana usage would still be illegal under federal law even if prop 19 had passed in California.  While the federal government wouldn’t be able to require California law officials to help them enforce the federal law, the police and the Obama administration plan on doing so.  L.A. County Sheriff, Lee Baca, had already publicly stated that even if the proposition passed, he would tell his officers to disregard the voters’ decision, saying, “Proposition 19 is not going to pass, even if it passes." 

Californians who smoke still have something to look forward to. Governor Schwarzenegger recently signed SB 1449, which will turn the possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor into a civil infraction starting January 1, 2011.



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