Monday, November 8, 2010

Guest Post: Where Does the Legalization Movement Go From Here?

I am pleased to share this guest post from Brandon Yu. He is a Managing Editor of AllTreatment is an online rehab center directory and substance abuse information resource.

I don't think we've had any guest posts before on the LEAP blog, so this is something new for us. The initiative shown by Brandon is welcome. Please be kind to him in the comments section!

After much national attention, California Proposition 19 has failed by 8 percent in nearly a 600,000 vote difference. As we all know, the Proposition was supposed to legalize marijuana in the state of California for recreational use. The measure was opposed by elected officials of both parties, including Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democratic Senators Barabar Boxer and Diane Feinstein.

Proposition 19 did not receive support from the federal government, either. Even if marijuana been legalized after the election, US Attorney General Eric Holder said that Obama’s administration would still “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws vigorously against Californians who would sell or grow marijuana for recreational use. Had it been legalized.

California Proposition 19 is not the only marijuana legislation to be rejected by voters across the country. Ballots in Arizona and South Dakota had measures advocating medical marijuana, but those too were rejected.

Proponents showed many benefits of legalization. In a floundering econonmy, the passing of the proposition would have generated $1.4 billion a year in tax revenue, resulting in significant savings for state and local governments. Some believed it would also reduce drug-related violence and take revenue away from drug lords. However, opponents argued that it would increase the cost of substance abuse programs due to the supposed raise in marijuana use, and that the state’s medical marijuana program would lose business since people would gain the product through other way.

So what does this mean for legalization in California, let alone the status of marijuana in the country’s future?

Marijuana laws in California have grown increasingly more relaxed in the year leading up to the proposition. In one of Schwarzenegger's final moves in his last year as Governor, he signed a bill into law that downgraded marijuana possession from a Misdemeanor to a simple Civil Infraction. Despite this, Schwarzenegger did not say that this was an admission of support for legalization.

Other states, and other countries had been looking to how California would react to legalization. Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose country had been experiencing a prolonged drug war with the cartels, was considering legalization in order to put less money in the pockets of the opposition. The Mexican drug cartels make anywhere from $20 billion-$30 billion annually off drug trafficking alone, with marijuana comprising of 60 percent of that income. Legalization would have dramatically reduced that number, potentially by $12 billion. Many Mexican officials were hoping California would set an example.

In spite of this, the legalization movement is stronger than ever. This is not the first time marijuana legalization failed in California. A similar proposition in 1972 – coincidentally titled Proposition 19 – failed when put at the hands of voters. However, that proposition failed by a wider margin, with a 66.5/33.5 No/Yes differential, a much larger difference than the 54/46 resulted from Tuesday. Though the proposition failed, proponents are vowing to get a similar one on a ballot in the near future. Some exit polls have shown that some Voters think that marijuana should be legalized, in a margin of 49%-41% with 10% undecided, suggesting that voters had more issues with the wording of the proposition rather than legalization.


  1. Brandon, good post. It was very balanced. One thing I will point out is that I don't think President Calderon is seriously considering legalization. He started the drug war in Mexico in 2006 by ordering the army to take down the drug cartels, so I doubt he is going to reverse that policy, and in many respects he has no one to blame but himself. Our resident Mexico and police reform expert may have more to say on this.

  2. That should be "Our resident Mexico and police reform expert, WALTER MCKAY, may have more to say on this."

  3. A couple of interesting numbers have stuck out to me in the Prop 19 autopsy. The first is that some polls showed that something like 30% of "No on 19" voters are actually in favor of repealing prohibition. This speaks to Brandon's claim that "voters had more issues with the wording of the proposition rather than legalization."

    Also, some analyses have indicated that, had turnout demographics matched those typically observed during Presidential elections (which feature higher turnout overall and higher ratios of young voters), Prop 19 would have finished in a near dead heat. This is a promising indicator for 2012; with the additional influx of young voters, moving the needle even a little bit toward legalization could very well push it over the edge. I have my fingers crossed for California and perhaps Colorado in 2012.


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