Drug War

Just a Matter of When?

Legalizing marijuana has failed in California. But even in defeat, Proposition 19 might mark the beginning of the end for prohibition.


On Homecoming Day at the University of Southern California, Elizabeth Tauro strode purposefully through the dense, shifting mob of pre-game partiers, bearing huge rolls of "Yes on 19" stickers on each arm. 

Saying yes to California's Proposition 19 would have meant that adults could legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana. They also would have been allowed to grow marijuana on up to 25 square feet of their property. Local governments would have been free to raise (but not reduce) these limits on possession and cultivation. They would also have been authorized to license, regulate, and tax sales of the long-demonized weed.

Tauro, a senior majoring in public policy, was working the crowd on this Saturday before Election Day on behalf of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. At this point in the campaign, she said, she was mostly "just letting everyone know that Tuesday is Election Day" rather than arguing the benefits of pot legalization. "Our generation supports reforming marijuana laws," she said. "It's just a question of whether they vote."

Not enough of them did. Proposition 19 lost by 54 percent to 46 percent just six weeks after most polls showed it winning. The drug war's foes had been on the verge of achieving a staggering victory, one that would have forced a confrontation with the federal government. Instead they saw history slip through their fingers.

Yet reformers are still optimistic. Prop. 19 won a higher vote total (and higher vote percentage) than any previous attempt to legalize pot in the United States. It made legalization—not medical marijuana, not decriminalization, but full legalization—a legitimate political debate in the country's biggest state. And it forged a coalition that stretched far beyond the usual axis of antiprohibition activists, notwithstanding some dissension within the ranks. The opposition, meanwhile, conceded some important arguments to the reformers, suggesting that public opinion has moved further along than ever before. The legalization of marijuana, activists argue, is a matter of when, not if.

Who Supported Prop. 19

Prop. 19 sprang from the brain and bank account of Richard Lee, a medical marijuana entrepreneur who operates a big dispensary and associated retail stores in Oakland as well as Oaksterdam University, a vocational school for the new industry that has had more than 12,000 students pass through since 2007.

Lee has played the local politics of medical marijuana as skillfully as anyone, winning city approval for industrial-sized indoor growing operations to feed the medical distribution system as well as a statement of intent to legalize the general sale of marijuana to adults as soon as the state permits it. Lee's opponents paint him as the would-be kingpin of legal pot, using the political system to guarantee that his in-the-works industrial grows will corner a market he is fighting to create.

Even while thriving within the medical marijuana system, Lee has always pushed for full legalization, because he thinks "prohibition is hypocritical, unjust, and unfair." In March 2009, a poll Lee commissioned showed, for the first time, a majority of California voters supporting legalization. At that point, he began drafting language for a ballot initiative. Two other legalization measures vied for the 2010 ballot, but only Lee, who spent nearly $1 million just on gathering signatures, had the money to succeed.

Traditional drug reform groups initially either snubbed Lee or advised him that a presidential election year would be better. "It was surprising to see how hostile they got," he says. Lee joined the board of the Marijuana Policy Project, hoping he could steer it toward supporting his initiative, but the group lacked the money and the will, leading Lee to resign and go it largely alone. Representatives of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) did help him with drafting the language of the initiative, while remaining doubtful about the timing.

The major drug reform groups did eventually all get behind Prop. 19, and two of the biggest moneybags in reform circles, George Soros and Peter Lewis, chipped in during the last days of the campaign. (Soros' $1 million donation was funneled not through Lee's organization but through a separate pro-19 group managed by the DPA.) It "hurt us," Lee says, that the big drug policy groups "didn't get on board until late in the process." 

But long before Soros hopped on, the Yes on 19 coalition had expanded far beyond the drug policy world. Seasoned Democratic operatives joined the pro-19 campaign, even though incoming California Gov. Jerry Brown opposed it and Sen. Dianne Feinstein chaired the opposition. The progressive netroots blog Firedoglake launched a "Just Say Now" campaign that, together with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, placed 50,000 targeted get-out-the-vote calls. And perhaps most significantly, the proposition was endorsed by such drug policy newbies as the California chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the League of United Latin American Citizens of California.

"The groups most adversely affected by the drug war—minorities, Latinos, African Americans—were not [traditionally] in the fray," says Neill Franklin, a former police officer who leads Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). When the NAACP endorsed Prop. 19, he says, it was "a game changer. I called [Alice Huffman, head of the California NAACP,] up and told her I was law enforcement, and I was for Proposition 19. She said she practically fell out of her chair." LEAP sent representatives to more than 250 events around the state, emphasizing that police and court resources should be used more productively than in the failed attempt to get people to stop selling and using a relatively benign drug. (A September 2010 study for the Cato Institute by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that California spends $960 million a year on marijuana law enforcement.) LEAP recruited the National Black Police Association and the National Latino Officers Association for the cause.

Organized labor was another important source of new support. Dan Rush, special operations director for the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local #5, got excited about the jobs that could be created in a legal market for marijuana and hemp. He convinced his union, against initial doubts, that "this initiative would create an industry in retail, agriculture, and food processing, and UFCW is a retail, agriculture, and food processing union." He became labor director for the Yes on 19 campaign.

Rush convinced the powerful Service Employees International Union and the Northern California Council of the Longshoremen to back Prop. 19, and he persuaded the California Labor Federation (CLF) to refrain from opposing it. When the next legalization campaign comes along, Rush swears he'll be able to move the CLF from neutrality to support, which could be a key step toward changing minds in the Democratic Party.

Who Didn't Support Prop. 19

Although Prop. 19 found new allies in the civil rights and labor movements, it did not have the unified support of the marijuana reform movement. The most successful and active medical marijuana group, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), was officially neutral. That in itself was not necessarily a problem. Given the group's institutional mandate to deal exclusively with medical marijuana, Yes on 19 spokesperson Dale Sky Jones says, ASA's neutrality was "the closest they could come to officially supporting us."

Medical marijuana dispensaries were split on the issue. Although the initiative was ultimately crafted to change nothing at all about the laws in place protecting doctor-certified patients' access to pot and their ability to grow, possess, and exchange it, rumors were rife that they would be hit with new limits on how much they could possess. (The current limit—set by court decisions, not statute—is whatever is deemed medically necessary for the patient.) Others noted that the proposition didn't legalize smoking pot in public, and worried that this would be a loophole allowing authorities to harass medicinal smokers. Pro-19 canvassers say many dispensaries refused to allow campaign literature in their shops. Since the passage of California's Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the medical folks had managed to create a market niche for sellers and a relatively safe haven for users, and many feared that opening up the market to more competition would be bad for their bottom line.

For the same reason, and with more anger, most of the growers from Northern California's fertile Humboldt and Mendocino counties were against Prop. 19. The initiative lost in both. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and one of the oldest warriors in the national drug policy fight, says the growers rebelled when they decided there was "no way post-prohibition for anyone to fetch $15 or $25 for a gram of dried vegetable matter." People currently making $25 to $30 an hour trimming weed in Humboldt imagined their jobs reduced to minimum-wage work or eliminated entirely.

Prop. 19 supporters pushed back with the idea of a post-legalization market similar to the market for wine, with room for both cheap, mass-produced offerings like Two-Buck Chuck and expensive, artisanal products like Chateau Petrus for connoisseurs. But with the growing medical market already driving down prices, most Northern California growers didn't want to hear it. They saw Lee as the wannabe Sam Walton of grass. "People will want something faceless and easy," one grower told me. "They want their fucking Big Mac. In order to make something of quality, you have to deal with a lot more labor and a lot more time. Just use machines, turn out crap, sell it cheap."

In the end, it might not matter whether the "marijuana community" per se supports legalization. The total number of voters in the major growing counties amounted to only 65,000 or so ballots in an election that was lost by half a million, and even adding all the people across the state involved in cutting or moving their product wouldn't be enough to have ensured victory. Still, many Prop. 19 strategists say they want to bring in medical marijuana producers, sellers, and consumers as stakeholders from the beginning next time around. They hope to persuade all involved that full legalization would ensure less police harassment, and less danger from violent black market criminals, and they hope to persuade producers that, especially in the short term, there will still be room for small family growers.

Other activists are less forgiving. "If growers are against legalization," West Coast Leaf Publisher Chris Conrad told The Huffington Post, "they can't be part of the legalization process, and now it's up to them to show good-faith support or be left out of the process.…Prop. 19 offered them a legal customer base, a statewide regulatory framework, and a local voice to protect their interests. The next campaign is more likely to pitch a more restrictive approach to bring [in] more conservative voters like Asians and housewives, who want heavy-handed controls, and will consider whether growers deserve any consideration at all. Those folks are unreliable at best, traitors to the cause at worst."

What the Opposition Concedes

The narrow space around the sunken floor of Hollywood's hip Café Was was crammed with a dozen reporters. Cameras jockeyed for an angle on the table where activist/actor Danny Glover, singer Melissa Etheridge, and likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson talked about the importance of passing Proposition 19. Also on the bill: comic actor Hal Sparks, Sarah Lovering of the Marijuana Policy Project, and 20-year L.A. police veteran Stephen Downing of LEAP.

The activists pointed out the fiscal madness of spending billions over decades on a failed attempt to stop people from using a benign weed. They talked about the taxes not collected when a $14 billion industry is driven into the black market. They discussed the rape kits that went untested while police processed 861,000 misdemeanor pot arrests in California last year. They argued that it's actually easier to keep kids from pot in a legal market, since legal merchants check ID and illegal drug dealers don't. They noted that we don't tend to see illegal vineyards in state and national parks in California, where violent drug dealers sometimes grow their wares.

Alone and earnest on the sidewalk outside the club, a blonde woman in a business suit was passing out pamphlets. It was Alexandra Datig, one of the primary public voices against Prop. 19. She comes from the "I stopped; you shouldn't start" school. A former call girl in Heidi Fleiss' famous escort business, Datig insists that her own life was derailed by drugs—pot and the harder stuff she insists pot led to—and that legalization will only create more stories like hers.

Datig's pamphlet shed light on the shifting shape of the drug reform debate. It stressed, for example, that voting against Prop. 19 would "not interfere with a patients [sic] access to medical marijuana." Those who remember the mid-1990s might be amazed that the anti-19 forces declined to attack, and in fact defended, medical marijuana, just 14 years after a remarkably contentious political fight over the Compassionate Use Act, a.k.a. Proposition 215, the first successful initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in the United States. Medical pot is now as mainstream in California as surfing, and 14 other states and Washington, D.C., have embraced it as well.

Datig's literature also implicitly accepted a central argument of the legalizers: that black markets create negative ancillary effects. "Legalization would not eliminate the black market or organized crime," the pamphlet warned. "Black market sales to kids would expand.…Taxation would return buyers to the black market." The No on 19 forces thus conceded that the black market created by prohibition is something to worry about.

That was the most striking thing about the Prop. 19 fight: The opposition was not defending the drug war status quo. They just picked at particular aspects of the initiative, hoping to move lukewarm legalizers into the no column. While that approach undoubtedly helped kill Prop. 19's chances, it is great news for the larger debate over drug policy. Although 26 of the state's biggest daily newspapers editorialized against the initiative, many used language like this from the San Francisco Chronicle: "We agree with the architects of Prop. 19 that the 'war on drugs'—especially as it applies to marijuana—has been an abject failure."

The opposition to 19 was also heavily outspent, by more than 10 to one. The last time a major drug law reform was on the ballot in California—Prop. 5 in 2008, which would have moved nonviolent drug offenders from jail to a largely treatment-oriented model—it was defeated with $1.8 million in California Correctional Peace Officers Association cash. CCPOA stayed out of the fray on 19, as did many of the formerly anti-reform and deep-pocketed Indian tribes. Some police chiefs and narcotics officers groups gave tens of thousands to fight 19, and the California Beer and Beverage Distributors gave $10 grand, but no one seemed willing to spend significant amounts fighting legalization.

Why Did Prop. 19 Lose?

Message discipline is tight in the Yes on 19 camp. No one sounds discouraged, even after their electoral defeat. All parties say they will remain unified, this time from the start, in a likely 2012 redo, when the youth vote they are sure can push them over the top is more likely to come out for the presidential race. Richard Lee cautions that he is not in a position to sink the same amount of money into this cause again. But NORML's Allen St. Pierre says one of Prop. 19's great long-term victories was that it uncovered "more young millionaires committed to marijuana law reform"—such as former Facebook president Sean Parker, who gave the campaign $100,000—"and we are interacting with them in their ascendancy, not in their doddering retirement years."

But it's hard to know how to do better if you aren't sure why you failed. I found no consensus among pro-19 forces regarding what went wrong. Some are sure that more money early on, more TV ads, and/or more mailers would have made a decisive difference, but that the timing and the messaging were otherwise fine. Most 19ers saw their campaign as an attempt to get an already existing mass of pro-legalization citizens to vote, as opposed to changing anti-legalization voters' minds. Steve Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project thinks that that attitude is dead wrong, and that more sales work on the essential harmlessness of pot needs to be done to ensure enough of a margin of victory. The UFCW's Dan Rush says the next initiative should include a statewide tax and regulatory scheme. Firedoglake's Michael Whitney thinks the campaign has to put more effort into "building the kind of grassroots infrastructure and volunteer network needed to sustain turnout." (More than one 19er thought that such efforts in Los Angeles especially, where the initiative lost, could have won it for them statewide.) Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance wants to lose the initiative's language that would forbid employers from discriminating against or punishing an employee for using pot if it didn't actually impair job performance, which the California Chamber of Commerce and several newspapers cited as a reason to oppose Prop. 19.

Almost everyone agrees that if a benefactor wants to drop $1 million on the campaign the next time round, he should do it before absentee ballots have been cast. (Instead, around a third of the campaign's money came in only in the last two weeks.) And while debates at in-person events and in the papers are all well and good, legalizers need to reach the mass of people whose main exposure to political thought is on TV. That means more TV ads (like one the pro-19 camp launched at the last minute) with police officers explaining that legal pot will mean more, not less, law and order.

Public support for pot legalization continues to rise. According to Gallup, since 1995, before the dawn of the medical pot era, support for marijuana legalization has risen nationally from 25 percent to 46 percent. And as of Gallup's October 2010 poll, in states west of Texas 58 percent of those polled support the change that Prop. 19 tried to make.

Still, the reform movement has not yet managed to sell legalization to otherwise libertarian-minded folk as a logical part of constitutionalist, limited government. A CNN Election Day exit poll in California found that 61 percent of those who think government is doing too much nonetheless opposed Prop. 19, as did 53 percent of those "angry" at the federal government and 63 percent of Tea Party supporters.

Even more surprising, a post-election Greenberg Research poll financed by Prop. 19 supporters found that 31 percent of California voters who believe pot should be legal nonetheless cast their ballots against the measure. That suggests many voters objected to this particular proposition, rather than legalization in general. The initiative, with its many provisions designed to pre-empt opposition, offered multiple targets for opponents to shoot at.

One point of contention, stressed heavily by the anti-19 campaign, was the local option, which gave local jurisdictions leeway to establish their own regulations and taxes for the cultivation and sale of marijuana. According to opponents, this system would have created "a jumbled legal nightmare," as anti-19 spokesman Roger Salazar put it, even though California, like most of America, already deals with many controversial matters, from booze to gambling to gun possession, with a variety of local restrictions rather than one statewide rule.

One aspect of Prop. 19 that bothered both anti-pot activists and pro-legalization libertarians was the provision restricting pot-related job discrimination. Anti-pot propagandists envisioned a wave of stoned school bus drivers zipping off bridges and zonked nurses passing out over patient's beds, while libertarians argued that it was an unnecessary intrusion into employment contracts.

It's also possible that many voters felt the issue was less pressing after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a month before Election Day, signed S.B. 1449, a measure that reduced possession of less than an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction, similar to a traffic violation. Schwarzenegger's move killed a great selling point for 19 proponents: Why burden so many tens of thousands of people a year with a searchable criminal record and get them embedded in a criminal justice system that could eventually lead to prison, just for dope? While it was already true that almost no one went to jail or prison in California for mere use or small possession, 1449 lowered the legal difficulties facing pot users even further.

Still, 1449 does not solve the problems of crime and corruption associated with black market sales of pot. And, as co-chair of the Prop. 19 legal committee Hanna Dershowitz points out, by eliminating court costs for the system, under 1449 the incentive for cops to waste lots of time targeting young minorities might be even higher. Dope law enforcement is now a pure cash cow, so even under 1449 police attention will still be mistargeted to harassing pot smokers. (And with a targeted class that won't always be able to pay fines on time, even the new system could lead to real criminal consequences.)

But in truth, as Ethan Nadelmann says, "we have no hard evidence whatsoever that any one of the provisions helped or hurt and no really good evidence about whether any particular message helped or hurt." Several legalization advocates suspect the voting was swayed more by general uneasiness with sudden, far-reaching change, and that when they have a second chance to think about legalization, they'll come around.

What They're Fighting For

All this talk of messaging, coalition building, and conventional electioneering is itself a sign that the politics of repealing prohibition underwent a significant shift during the Prop. 19 campaign. Outright legalization is now on the table in several states, with measures likely to reach the 2012 ballot in at least California, Colorado, and Nevada. Activists hope as many as half a dozen states may end up in play. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has a legislative take on legalization ready to roll out again in 2011 as well (last year an earlier version became the first such bill in American history to get out of committee in the Assembly), though politicians are clearly more scared of legalization than are voters. 

Although he is still a dark-horse candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, as the first major politician in America to make legalization a big part of his message, could turn up the volume on the national conversation if he gets anywhere in the primaries. So could Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) if he runs.

But even with all this hopeful talk, there is a darker side to the politics of pot, as I was reminded at an election night party where I ran into Stephanie Landa. Landa is a sweet, gentle woman who spent three years in federal prison for running a San Francisco marijuana growing operation that, with the full knowledge of local law enforcement officials, served the city's medical market. When I first met her in November 2009, she was being forced to live in a grim halfway house with unpleasant, nutty neighbors. Her every move was monitored. She was legally prohibited from seeing the father of her child, since he was also arrested in the federal bust that sent her to prison.

Landa, a heroine and a martyr within the medical marijuana community, knows it well and understands its concerns. But for Landa, determining the right thing to do when it came to Prop. 19 did not require complicated guesses about how Attorney General Eric Holder might enforce federal law in California, or how counties would regulate and tax cannabis, or who might come out ahead in a legal marijuana market. As she put it, "I just don't want anybody to go to prison anymore." 

Senior Editor Brian Doherty is author of This is Burning Man (BenBella), Radicals for Capitalism (PublicAffairs) and Gun Control on Trial (Cato Institute).

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  1. Instead they saw history slip through their fingers.
    Brian, you could have written that in such an interesting fashion-too bad

    1. Instead they saw history slip through their fingers.

      He could have drawn a nonobvious and compelling op-art cartoon with a “History” book slipping out of a “Hand.”

      1. X, y—Indeed—by not commissioning that illuminating cartoon, I truly let history slip through my own hand.

  2. I am old and decrepit enough to remember when the ERA was a sure thing…

    for the youngsters – era is the equal rights amendment

    1. I remember the ERA as well, but it differs from the legalization in at least one important aspect. The ERA was a feel-good amendment that did nothing; equal rights for women are already written in the constitution.

      Legalization of MJ really does change things.

  3. Fresno makes a good point about the ERA, although I feel that the momentum is in favor of legalization of Mary Jane.

    A generation ago, during the ‘Just say “no” era’, prop 19 wouldn’t even have made it to the ballot.

    1. Actually California had a ballot initiative in 1972 to decriminalize cultivation and possession. Ironically it was also Proposition 19. It failed by just a tiny bit less than 2 to 1.


      Interesting: 5,433,393 voted no in the 1972 Prop 19 and 5,333,359 voted no in 2010.

      1969 saw Woodstock, the summer of love, and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 declared unconstitutional by the SCOTUS in Leary v United States (1969)

      I’d suggest that the blanket amnesty that Jimmy Carter gave to the Vietnam draft dodgers is the more appropriate comparison. Amending the US Constitution requires a significant supermajority to be implemented. The fact is that using the ERA for comparison is arguing from the specific to the general.

  4. There is a sample bill published on Wecanlegislate.org that would remove cannabis from Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, allowing states to set their own laws regarding marijuana use. An e-mail sample is available as well so you can contact your representative or senators about this proposal.


  5. It’s hard for me to see the repeal of pot prohibition since the country is basically trying to bring prohibition to tobacco. Smoking is bad, uummmkay.

    1. It wouldn’t be the first time the government went in two directions at once on drug policy. Repeal of alcohol prohibition and the first federal law against cannabis were enacted in the same decade.

    2. Smoking isn’t required, ummm-kay?

      Gosh if you don’t know that basic part of the subject why in the world would you post an opinion, and in such an authoritative tone? Well I guess it sounds meaningful at first blush especially if you adopt that tone of authority.

      Smoking pot didn’t start in the US until cannabis was first criminalized in the early part of the 20th century. For thousands of years people preferred edibles including bhang as the delivery method. As recently as the middle of the 19th century there were hash parlors in every major city in the US and it’s hardly pushing the envelope to suggest people were buying medicine from the local apothecary in the same time frame.

      For a detailed accounting of how people enjoyed recreational cannabis in the 19th century I recommend reading “The Hasheesh Eater” by Fitz Hugh Ludlow and first published in 1857. You can find it at Amazon.com for less than $15 IIRC.

      1. The health hazards of lighting vegetable matter and purposefully inhaling the gasses produced by combustion are not health hazards of cannabis. That idea is just conflation. But feel free to keep the act of smoking cannabis illegal. It sure wouldn’t worry me even a little bit and it might even be a blessing for those who stuck on thinking that smoking is the best delivery option.

        Other methods of delivery include sublingual tinctures, topical salves, transdermal patches, inhalers like the asthmatics use, suppositories and vaporization. Vaping has been proven to be safe in study published last year.


        From the linked CMCR report:

        quote—->”In the area of non-smoked routes of cannabis administration, Dr. Donald Abrams’ study, “Vaporization as a ‘Smokeless’ Cannabis Delivery System,” has been completed and the results published in the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. This study found that vaporization was a safe and effective mode of delivery. Two CMCR clinical trials are now in progress utilizing vaporization.”

  6. They need to do two things:

    First, they need to simplify their bill and the message, and say we will regulate marijuana on exactly the same terms as we do alcohol. Period.

    Second, they need to do a better job with the fiscal argument:

    (1) The direct costs of marijuana enforcement become savings. These can be applied, if you want, to offset budget cuts to the po-lice.

    (2) The indirect costs of marijuana enforcement become economic stimulus: all the productive citizens taken off the streets, all the money blown on defense, etc. etc.

    (3) And, of course, you pick up some tax revenue.

    1. >First, they need to simplify their bill and the message, and say we will regulate marijuana on exactly the same terms as we do alcohol. Period.

      That suggestion has some strategic appeal despite the pharmacological mismatch of cannabis and alcohol.

      But it presents some practical questions, such as how to establish a legal definition of intoxication through quantification.

      1. Quantifying cannabis “intoxication” is easy enough. Simply measuring actual nanograms of THC per ML of blood is an accurate test for determining this. CO is implementing a 5ng/ml blood level as a Per-Se DUID standard for cannabis. This basically gives cannabis consmers about two hours to abstain from use before driving. (please note this is different than urine testing since it measures Active THC, not just the non-impairing metabolites that appear post consumption in urine testing)

  7. the main problem is that a century of bullshit still clouds the “thinking” of the average person with regard to drug use.

    combine that with the lack of bona fide average every day people who defy the stereotypes and it isn’t difficult to understand why prop 19 failed.

    the two major impediments to changing the drug laws remain the same: no coherent message and no respectable poster children.

    1. Willie Nelson? Carl Sagan?

      Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there.

      Approaching 100% of the potheads that I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the last 33 1/2 years were just your typical working John, working Joe. The reason that you think that there’s a significant cohort of Spicolis in our numbers is because only people with nothing to lose are going to go public, so they’re the only ones you see.

      But there is a significant private dialogue in progress among the Cannabinoidians and some serious lobbying for people to out themselves. It’s a lot harder for potheads than it was for the gays. The police can’t arrest a man for possession of a penis.

      To me it feels that there’s a good chance that the consensus will be reached which will enable people to start coming out. Seriously, we’re madder than hell and we’re not going to take it anymore. Like us or love us are you’re only viable options.

      We’re not going away and we’re not going to quit enjoying cannabis We’ve got almost a full century of evidence which says you can’t stop us.


      1. no group is taken seriously if they hide in the shadows.

        and perhaps you don’t realize whom it is you are addressing. click on my name.

  8. First, they need to simplify their bill and the message, and say we will regulate marijuana on exactly the same terms as we do alcohol. Period.


    The provisions that added legal protections for marijuana users turned off enough voters; it was not a simple repeal of criminal laws.

  9. legalize away so ur wives & daughters will tear their clothes off & orgy

    1. Are you saying that’s a bad thing?

      1. Obviously it will be a bad thing because the orgy would be miscegenatistic in nature. It has been well known for decades that the Negroes use jazz music and merry wanna to seduce white women.

    2. Can haz mor interesting troll plz? Kthxbai.

  10. how old?

  11. combine that with the lack of bona fide average every day people who are willing to risk SWAT raids and prison to publicly defy the stereotypes

    There’s plenty of perfectly ordinary people who spark up. For very good reasons, though, they don’t make a public display of it.

    1. There’s a lot of us.

    2. until they do they can’t cry about the laws not being changed.

  12. The Weedinator!!

    “I’ll be back – for your munchies!!”

  13. “A September 2010 study for the Cato Institute by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron found that California spends $960 million a year on marijuana law enforcement[.]”

    The raison d’etre of Drug Prohibition: Big, Ballooning Budgets.

  14. Looks like a lot of legwork went into this piece.

    Imperial Forces laid siege to the whole structure. But only attacked where its support could be eroded. Very well done.

    Proponents seemed slow to respond to the breaches in their outer supporting defenses. This failure to engage the raiding parties openly left supporters uneasy. While popular among the peasantry, Prop 19 leadership failed to expand efforts to rally the peasants. These leadership failures, along with the subseqent tactical situation, caused the mercenary contigents cut their losses. And they left the field of battle.

    While Victorius on the field, the Imperial forces are shocked at how close the battle was. And have stepped up their house to house kill, search, loot policies.

    When will the Rebel Forces strike again?

    Soon..Very very soon

    1. All your violent rhetoric is going to cause some real violence, doncha know?

      1. but even if I’m silent, my heat signature gives away my posistion.

    2. I think the more likely problem is that getting potheads to agree with one another is on the same level of difficulty as attempting to herd house cats.

  15. Great article from Mr. Doherty. Some aspects of the propositions campaign that he did not mention were the big social wins made. These wins are what the propositions supporters came away with and part of what is driving their continued optimism.

    In 1976 another Prop 19 sought to decriminalize marijuana in California, it garnered only 34% of the vote. It was not until 2008 that another proposition (Prop 5)for general decriminalization made it on the ballot. That proposition only sought to reduce possession of up to an ounce to an infraction. It only got the support of 40% of the voters.

    In only one election cycle, this Proposition 19 not only garnered 46.5% of the vote, but also arguably forced the California Legislature and Governor to ratify the failed prop 5 by making simple possession an infraction a week before the vote. (Many viewed this move as a concession to affect the election.)

    That gain in one election cycle for a much more comprehensive proposition was as big as the gains made in the 30-something years previous. Outside of suggesting that less control not more is what voters are looking for, it demonstrates that Proposition 19 changed the face of the legalization effort in California dramatically. It did so in ways no one ever guessed that it could as a campaign ignored by the big political machines.

    In 2012 I have every faith that a new effort for legalization will be a slam dunk.

    1. Ooooo sneakity rebels are sneakity

  16. Okay, Brian makes a lot of good points, but I’ve been hearing from the “when not if” crowd literally my entire adult life. Yadda, yadda, yadda, inevitable!

    It’s a prediction that can never be proved wrong. If not this election, then next. Y’all will pardon me for being skeptical until it passes.

  17. It’s probably because I spend most of my time reading this rag, but I sometimes have a hard time remembering that people still seriously defend marijuana prohibition. It seems like one of those quaint old practices that was long ago discredited, like phrenology or something.

    Of course in reality it’s very serious business, but I can’t personally do much more than laugh at prohibitionists these days.

    1. Laughter is ok…Return fire verbotten!

    2. The ad from drugfreeworld.org at the top of the page here should help remind you..

  18. The closest I have ever seen this country get to sanity over recreational drug use was during the Carter era when Carter said that the penalties for drug use should not be more harmful to you than the drug itself. Of course, that was assuming that the real motives behind the drug war is concern over people’s well being. As much of a dipshit as Carter was, at least he did approach the edge of sanity with respect to “drugs” and the criminalization of “drug”. I use put quotations around “drug” because the idiots in this country area all for drug use, just not “drug” use. American’s poison themselves routinely with compounds far more toxic and dangerous than most recreational drugs. Of course, as a libertarian I think it is all total bullshit. Nobody has any legitimate business telling you what you may or may not ingest.

  19. What we need is a well publicized study by a legit group showing that it is easier for kids to purchase pot than cigs or booze. I am about a decade out of high school, but that was definitely the case in my days. This counters most anti pot arguments right?

    1. I’m pretty sure the Monitoring the Future study has reflected this for a few years now.

      1. The documentation of stupidity is quite impressive.

      2. it has indeed — for 35 years and counting

    2. The Prop 19 campaign did produce good commercial addressing the accessibility of illegal drugs to minors compared to a controlled substance like alcohol. They did not have enough money early enough to run them comprehesively around the state.


  20. Funny, progressives don’t want you smoking tobacco, eating cheeseburgers, driving SUV’s and wearing fur. But when it comes to pot, it’s legalize it! I wonder where we’ll be able to smoke it since smoking is being banned on sidewalks, public parks, beaches, and even in some condos!

    Read my article about gun-grabbing England being #1 in Violence.

    1. The interesting thing is that the nnti-smoking ordinance in NY City (Or is it the state statute? Or both?) applies only to tobacco-containing smokes.

    2. What in the world are you trying to inject the red herring about smoking into the conversation? Regardless, the restriction on pot smoking can be much the same as those placed on nicotine slaves. I actually think the cannabis smoking should be more stiffly regulated than tobacco smoking.

      Are you one of those Know Nothing prohibitionists who seem that there are only two choices? Those choices being absolute prohibition enhanced with summary execution when people get caught or a total free for all with no regulation whatever?

  21. Why no mention of the Republican Liberty Caucus of California? While most Democratic Party groups were tripping over themselves in their haste to oppose Prop 19, the RLC of California bravely took a stand for freedom. This was reported in nearly every newspaper article on the proposition.

    Why the continuing myth that liberals are in favor of ending the drug war?

    1. The point about RLC is an interesting one, but I wouldn’t exactly charge Reason with fawning over the drug reform credentials of mainstream liberals. Matt Welch killed the papers throughout the campaign, and Balko had an interesting post about true liberalism versus statism stemming from that discussion.

    2. “Why the continuing myth that liberals are in favor of ending the drug war?”

      Some Imperial plans were leaked. They were lesser contingency options dating back to the 1930’s. The leak took place during the 50’s. But during the implimentation phase of the late 60’s public Education subversion took precedence. Those leftists working the drug plan were abandoned in place, and continued their work seperately from the liberal agenda.

    3. The RLC of California can fit in a phone booth on Sunset Boulevard (when the Libertarian Party of California is done using it).

    4. In Southern California I can say with some certainty that the Republican Liberty Caucus was no where near the Prop 19 campaign. There were a LOT of progressives in both the petition drive and the GOTV efforts but the only “conservatives” to do anything other than pay lip service to Prop 19 were a surprisingly sizable number of skilled big L Libertarians, Gary Johnson, and LEAP. None of them flew an RLC flag.

      The Democrats, like they do with gay rights, seem to view the drug war as a fund raiser that were it ever start to make gains, they would lose money. They are stringing out the progressives and there is a rift on the left just like the rift on the right that Ron Paul exemplifies.

      It may be an interesting decade in US politics.

      1. As one who was active on the Yes on 19 campaign in Orange County, we had a pretty good mix of libertarians, liberals and RLCer’s helping out.

        My major disappointment is with the local so called “progressive” faith community. A community who did nothing more than stick their heads in the sand on this issue even though there are “social justice” issues that were far more relevant than the ones made up for single payer healthcare or so called campaign finance reform. A community who paid us lip service and didn’t give us an opportunity to present our case when we made countless attempts to reach out to them. A member of the AIDS ministry from Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church was more helpful than these so called “progressives.”

        It is pretty sad and pathetic when our sole religious allies were from an Episcopal Church in San Diego County.

        But hey, it’s all about the children right? How about 30,000 killed in Mexico City thanks to their stupid drug war. Don’t hear much lamenting about that from these “tolerant” types.

        1. I don’t know if it counts as progressive, but there was a big debate at a Unitarian church in OC with Judge James Gray during the campaign.

    5. “Why the continuing myth that liberals are in favor of ending the drug war?”

      The next time some “tolerant progressive” aka liberal Democrat tells you that their party favors ending the Drug War, ask them where is the official position on their party’s platform. You will either get a stupid blank look or hear the sounds of crickets.

      In the state of California, there are three political parties that have expressed their support for legalization in their party’s platform:

      Peace and Freedom (since 1967)
      Libertarian (since 1971)
      Green (since 1990)

      You’ll have a better chance of scoring a date with one of the Khardashian sisters than you would finding language calling for the end of the Drug War in the platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties.

  22. Why didn’t Prop 19 pass? Because it was up against “logic” like this, taken from an article discussing the “dangers” of salvia, posted on the website of Drug Free NJ, which I just happened to stumble across before reading Brian’s article:

    “According to the study, salvia prompts an almost immediate and extremely powerful reaction among users. The experience, which typically lasts five to 15 minutes, is not accompanied by any appreciable health risks in the short-run, the researchers found. “But that’s not to say that I would generally describe this drug as ‘safe,'” {Dr. Matthew A.Johnson of Johns Hopkins Medical School} cautioned. He said that taking any hallucinogen “means that if someone was to smoke it while driving, my money would be on the likelihood that they are going to have an accident. So there is certainly a ‘behavioral toxicity’ concern with this drug.”

    So a substance with no known adverse health effects is still “toxic” because I might drive while using it. By the same logic, we should outlaw sleeping.

    However, the general public has been so overwhelmed with antidrug hysteria for so long that idiotic arguments like this carry weight. Anti-prohibitionists are arguing logic against pure emotion. It will be a long battle.

  23. And as if one cue, I have just received an email inviting me to the Federal Transit Authority’s Sixth Annual Drug and Alcohol Program National Conference in St. Louis, starting April 5, 2011:

    “This FREE three-day conference will include speakers from the FTA and the Office of the Secretary’s Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance (ODAPC), FTA auditors, FTA Drug and Alcohol MIS Program and Newsletter staff, the Transportation Safety Institute (TSI), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and professionals from the DOT Drug and Alcohol testing industry (including a Medical Review Officer (MRO), Substance Abuse Professional (SAP), Urine Collector, Breath Alcohol Technician (BAT), and a Third Party Administrator (TPA)). The conference will consist of a number of concurrent sessions and various networking opportunities.”

    With an entrenched anti-drug bureaucracy like this, is it any wonder legalization is an uphill climb?

    1. Free my ass! I’m PAYING for this. With commie money!

      HAHAHA! FOOLS! Commie money.. lmao

  24. Alexandra Datig…….. nothing worse than a reformed hooker/drug addict.

    1. nothing worse than a reformed hooker/drug addict.

      Bzzzzzt, I’m sorry that’s incorrect. The answer was “Former Smokers”. Thank you for playing.

  25. Hey, man REASON knows what is important to mankind…..that’s why they call it REASON!

  26. I wonder, what is it that makes the writer of the instant article believe that Prop 19 would have ‘forced’ a conflict with the Feds? California had every legal right to pass and implement Prop 19. This is nothing new either. This is based on the tons of litigation during drinking alcohol prohibition when in 1923 the State of New York repealed all of their drinking alcohol prohibition laws that and sent a message to the Feds. That message was “good luck, you’re on your own.”

    Raich v Gonzales (2005) is also on point.

    I like to ask the people who for some reason think that the States are required to have such a law as a matter of SOP, “can you please explain to me, why is evasion of Federal income tax perfectly legal as far as the States are concerned?”

    One of the specifics in Prop 19 allowed each city and county the right to “opt out”. I never could figure out why that freaked out so many people. I wonder if they realize that had Prop 19 forced any city or county in California to implement a regulated retail distribution chain, that the framework would have gotten the law tossed out faster than you can say Dave’s not here.

    Why in the world would anyone overlook San Diego and San Bernardino County vs State of California? That was over the issuance of I.D. cards. If the law tried to force them to why wouldn’t we expect them to object even more vigorously object to actual retail production and sales? However this time around they would win and the law promptly relegated to the trash can of history.

    I really don’t get why both sides are demanding “all or nothing” rather than sitting down and in good faith negotiate public policies that are in the better interests of society and of the citizens. We’re not going to implement summary executions of drugs consumers or vendors, and we’re not going to re-legalize without limiting regulation. Can’t both sides get past the urge to beat your collective chests and subordinate your base emotions and extremist rhetoric and start working towards something that will advance the better interests of society?

    The war on (some) drugs is an epic failure of public policy. There’s really no objective argument that could be asserted to label it as successful, or even in the general vicinity of being able to fantasize that we’re making progress. Heck, I’m not sure that they could have done worse had failure been the goal.

    1. I like to ask the people who for some reason think that the States are required to have such a law as a matter of SOP, “can you please explain to me, why is evasion of Federal income tax perfectly legal as far as the States are concerned?”

      They probably don’t know it. They can’t imagine anybody say “It’s none of my business”.

  27. I didn’t read the entire piece so I apologize if this point was made. But the reason prop 19 failed was because of the NO votes of the growers. Both Mendocino and Humboldt counties, where almost all the commercial pot is grown, voted against 19.

    The fear of the growers was (and is) that the high-quality, boutique industry would be overtaken by big factory farming, just like it has been for alcohol and tobacco.

    Cops and law-enforcement types also voted against 19, of course. The cops and the growers against legalization, pretty much everyone else for it. That’s how it broke down.

    1. “the mercenary contigents left the field”


    2. FishFry, The growers didn’t vote for it for the same reasons as the cops; they have turned into the same animal. With MMJ both groups profit from taking advantage of sick people.

      BTW it was covered in the article… growers affected maybe 60,000 votes total and were insignificant. Evil, vile, traitorous, criminal, greedy, dishonest, grafting, in bed with cops and amoral… but still not a significant political force.

  28. I remember looking at breakdown of the vote by age. The youngest age group is overwhelmingly in favor, the oldest overwhelmingly opposed, and everything in between lies in straight line between them.

    While an age cohort probably gets a little more negative on legalization as time goes on, that’s not going to change the huge majorities in younger age brackets.

    Run legalization in a year with a presidential election, and you get a higher proportion of younger voters. Every year brings new young voters to the voting booth, and retires older voters from the voting booth.

    Relax. It is inevitable. It’s coming. Maybe not in 2 years, but probably in 6, and certainly in 10.

  29. Although the Baptists and Bootleggers, er growers, helped shoot down Prop 19, the article says their numbers weren’t enough to swing it to passage.

    The problem is cannabis sativa, a plant with thousands of uses is prohibited because of just one use. If the pain of this prohibition were expanded to those who have no desire to smoke up, who are missing a cheap ingredient to satisfying basic needs because of the cannabis sativa prohibition, you’ll find a lot more support for the next try. Tell a mom trying to keep her kids healthy that hemp seed oil is a great source of omega 3. Tell the treehugger that hemp is an economical pulp source alternative. Tell the trout fisherman that less pollutants will go into his stream using hemp. Tell the cotton grower that their pesticide and water bills will be far lower growing hemp.

    Get those who don’t know that they have skin in the game a reason to care. It’ll pass.

    1. I remember looking at breakdown of the vote by age. The youngest age group is overwhelmingly in favor, the oldest overwhelmingly opposed, and everything in between lies in straight line between them.

      While an age cohort probably gets a little more negative on legalization as time goes on, that’s not going to change the huge majorities in younger age brackets.

      Run legalization in a year with a presidential election, and you get a higher proportion of younger voters. Every year brings new young voters to the voting booth, and retires older voters from the voting booth.

  30. The only drug law should be to make it mandatory for people to smoke MJ! That law will appeal to those who like effen with others business.

  31. In this society of ever-increasing stress levels, how can anyone possibly justify keeping the substance that promotes violence (alcohol) “legal”, while insisting that the substance that suppresses violence (Cannabis) should be kept “illegal”! Total absence of logic. Cannabis is not physically addictive as it has no documented physical withdrawal syndrome associated with its use; smoking Cannabis has been shown to have NO connection with increased risk of lung cancer, the so-called “gateway drug” theory is a non-existent entity altogether, and Marinol is a synthetic THC analogue, which is not at all the same thing as Medicinal Cannabis. This is together with the remarkable medicinal properties of the Cannabis plant, the denial of which is not even a “rational” thing to do! It is as pointed out in the prestigious “Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook” that states clearly that “Cannabis use suppresses violent behavior and only the unsophisticated think otherwise”. Cannabis prohibition is doing more harm to this society than many people realize, as the (young) people are pushed to “experiment” with alcohol/hard drugs or dangerous, physically addictive prescription drugs, many of which promoting violent behavior instead of suppressing it as Cannabis does. CA Prop. 19 directly challenged the DEA “dogmas”, and it was the reason why it infuriated the “powers that be” the way it did! Unfortunately, many lawmakers are still swayed by the DEA disinformation in all these respects, but one thing is clear: just like KGB before it, the DEA will not be able to defend its mindless “dogmas” by repression alone; sooner or later the American people will clearly see this nonsense, and they will not tolerate it indefinitely!

  32. >California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has a legislative take on legalization ready to roll out again in 2011 as well (last year an earlier version became the first such bill in American history to get out of committee in the Assembly)

    While perhaps technically true, this talk of “American history” lends support to the false idea that prohibition is the default status of cannabis.

    The “history” we are talking about is about 100 years old, and it was preceded by a few hundred years of American history in which government didn’t police cannabis.

  33. Great article Brian — however I see no mention of the main reason no-one in my circle wanted Prop. 19 to go through: George Soros owns a good portion of Monsanto. Monsanto produces terminator seeds which easily escape their boundaries and go pollinate other growers’ crops with eunuch-genes… eventually leading to everyone in California to have to purchase THEIR seeds for $20 a pop. Most people I know voted it down simply because Monsanto was behind it. Monsanto is positioning itself not only to gain monopoly over the marijuana cultivation industry, but also the hemp market, which will soon follow. A ‘no’ vote was a clear vote against the certain corporate takeover of the world’s most precious underground industry.

  34. Gee, no one mentions that many patients and caregivers also voted against this poorly written and greedy Prop. One of their major concerns was making them criminals for smoking in the same room with anyone under 21!!! That was never a concern before.
    Jack Herer has written the only sensible initative!! I hope it is supported the next time.

  35. This plan has no merit

  36. however I see no mention of the main reason no-one in my circle wanted Prop. 19 to go through: George Soros owns a good portion of Monsanto. Monsanto produces terminator seeds which easily escape their boundaries and go pollinate other growers’ crops with eunuch-genes… eventually leading to everyone in California to have to purchase THEIR seeds for $20 a pop. Most people I know voted it down simply because Monsanto was behind it. Monsanto is positioning itself not only to gain monopoly over the marijuana cultivation industry, but also the hemp market, which will soon follow. A ‘no’ vote was a clear vote against the certain corporate takeover of the world’s most precious underground industry.

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