In a contest that pitted the legal establishment against activists that have long sought the measure’s approval, California voters snuffed out a proposal that would have legalized recreational marijuana for adults over age 21 and permit the state to tax commercial sale of the drug.
California was the only state with a measure on recreational pot, but South Dakota and Arizona ballots included medical marijuana initiatives, South Dakota’s Measure 13 went down in flames, 63 percent to 37 percent. Arizona’s Proposition 203 was statistically on the fence, though no-votes were ahead by about 7,000 with 92 percent of precincts reporting early Wednesday morning. There are currently 14 states, and the District of Columbia, with forms of medical marijuana laws.
The proposal – titled the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act” – would have allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, consume it in nonpublic places as long as no children were present and grow it in small private plots. Proposition 19 also would have authorized local governments to permit commercial pot cultivation, as well as the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.
Projections in California and by the National Council of State Legislatures show the measure has gone down to defeat by a significant margin, with 54 percent voting no compared with a 46 percent yes vote with most precincts reporting – rejecting a low-budget but high-profile campaign that could have set a groundbreaking trend for the rest of the nation. Advocates had argued that the proposal, known as Proposition 19, would have provided the cash-strapped state with a significant revenue stream and helped ease the overburdened court system, while opponents contended the measure’s approval would have created legal and social chaos.
Supporters of Proposition 19 blamed Tuesday’s outcome on the conservative leanings of older voters who participate in midterm elections. They also acknowledged that young voters had not turned out in sufficient numbers to secure victory, but said they were ready to try again in two years.
“It’s still a historic moment in this very long struggle to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Project. “Unquestionably, because of Proposition 19, marijuana legalization initiatives will be on the ballot in a number of states in 2012, and California is in the mix.”
Tim Rosales, who managed the No on 19 campaign, scoffed at that attitude from the losing side.
“If they think they are going to be back in two years, they must be smoking something,” he said. “This is a state that just bucked the national trend and went pretty hard on the Democratic side, but yet in the same vote opposed Prop 19.”
According to preliminary exit poll data, only about 1 voter in 10 said that his or her main motivation to vote in this election was Prop. 19.
Voters younger than 40 were slightly more drawn by the marijuana contest than older voters, but even among the younger voters, Prop. 19 came in third.
By far, the pot legalization initiative drew worldwide attention, but support for the measure had been sinking leading up to Tuesday’s ballot, according to recent polls. As late as Tuesday, Oakland City Attorney John Russo – a leading proponent of the pot plan – signaled its fading prospects during a Bay Area press conference.
“Even if we are cheated out of a win today, we have changed the debate from licentious hippies-versus-straight-arrow cops to one that recognizes this issue in all of its complexity,” Russo said, according to the Los Angeles Times.