According to a California Field Poll released on Wednesday, the majority of Golden State voters are in favor of legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol for recreational use. The Sacramento Bee expounded on the poll, which also stated that an even larger percentage of those polled oppose the federal crackdown on medical marijuana businesses. This sentiment was similar across party lines.
Marijuana reform activists were optimistic after learning of the results. Richard Lee, the chief proponent of Proposition 19, the ballot measure that attempted to make marijuana legal for adults in California in 2010, told the Bee:
"I think it shows that [marijuana legalization and regulation is] going to win in 2016, and it's just a matter of writing the best law that we can."
UPDATE: Not many more details have emerged regarding the purpose of yesterday's raids. From the Oakland Tribune:
Authorities refused to provide details about the raids carried out by U.S. Marshals and agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency and Internal Revenue Service. Lee was briefly detained in his home, but not arrested, supporters said. Two protesters were arrested as agents seized marijuana plants and other materials from Oaksterdam's downtown Oakland locations, all of which remained closed Monday.
Thankfully, the gunman at Oikos University in Oakland that murdered seven people and wounded several others while this was happening turned himself in to authorities. With law enforcement wasting time and resources on targeting state-legal educational businesses and legal medical marijuana patients, who knows how long he could have been at large? No one else was hurt by this person, but things could have gone very differently.
The political nature of the targets chosen by the feds has not escaped lawmakers or the marijuana reform community, either. While protestors turned out in large numbers to decry the attacks, legislators from five medical marijuana states were sending a letter to the federal government, asking it to end its interference with state medical marijuana programs.
Americans for Safe Access and other supporters of medical marijuana rights will be holding a press conference today, Tuesday, April 3 at 11:00 a.m. on the steps of City Hall located at 1 Dr. Carlton B Goodlett Place in San Francisco. If you are in the Bay Area, let the federal government feel your presence.
ORIGINAL (4/2/12 AT 12:47pm EST): For the last several hours, agents from the U.S. Marshals, DEA, and IRS have been conducting a raid on Oaksterdam University and other businesses associated with Proposition 19 proponent Richard Lee. Lee was the primary financial supporter of the attempt to make marijuana legal in California in 2010, and his marijuana businesses in Oakland helped revitalize that area of the city.
Reports are still coming in, but it seems that several people have been arrested in the raids and more are being detained at the scenes.
Supporters of medical marijuana patients and the marijuana reform community were quick to respond in defense of Oaksterdam, which is an industry leader in cannabis science education. Protesters have flooded the area, and there are unconfirmed reports that several have been arrested as well.
While law enforcement has been busy knocking over a pillar of the community, a shooting was taking place at the exact same time at a nearby Christian university. At least eight people have been injured, and as of a few minutes ago, the suspect is still at large.
This is a tragic day for the residents of Oakland. Their public servants need to be using every resource at hand to deal with real problems, not persecuting legitimate, peaceful businesses and medical marijuana patients.
California voters may have rejected Proposition 19 last week, but a poll released after the election shows that a majority of California voters still believe marijuana should be legal in principle, and that our current laws do more harm than good.
The poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that:
- 50 percent of California voters believe the use of marijuana should be made legal, regardless of their feelings on Prop. 19.
- 52 percent of voters believe our marijuana laws do more harm than good, agreeing that, “Like alcohol prohibition, laws against marijuana do more harm than good.” Only 37 percent disagreed with this statement.
- 31 percent of people who voted “no” on Prop. 19 believe marijuana should be legal, and agreed to the statement, “I believe marijuana should be legalized or penalties for marijuana should be reduced, but I opposed some of the specifics of Proposition 19.”
- 44 percent of voters believe legalization is inevitable, including 25 percent who voted against Prop. 19.
The survey’s most striking find is that if youth voters had turned out last week in the numbers they typically do during a presidential election year, Proposition 19 would have been statistically tied, with 49 percent voting yes to 51 voting no. That statistic and others reinforces our belief that a different measure to end marijuana prohibition would be well poised for victory in 2012 in a state like California or Colorado.
And if that isn’t enough to convince people that the movement to make marijuana legal is exponentially gaining strength, not losing it, consider this: In last week’s California election, Republican Meg Whitman spent an unprecedented $160 million on her campaign to become governor, and she lost, receiving only 3.1 million votes, or about 41 percent overall. The Proposition 19 campaign, on the other hand, spent only about $4 million, and Prop. 19 received 3.4 million votes (or 46 percent) – beating Whitman handily.
With solid funding, a healthy turnout by young voters, and a coalition of allies that is now larger and stronger because of the Prop. 19 campaign, there is every reason to believe we can be victorious in another two years. Don’t give up hope.
In the aftermath of at least three defeated statewide marijuana ballot measures on Election Day, people who aren't following the issue that closely might be inclined to think the pendulum is swinging against marijuana policy reform.
They'd be wrong.
In fact, a 46% vote in favor of California's Proposition 19 - accompanied by a collection of smaller, less-publicized marijuana-policy-reform victories across the country - is yet another sign of the growing strength of the movement to end marijuana prohibition.
Now, more than ever, I'm confident that we're heading toward eventual victory.
The defeat of Prop. 19 in California, while disappointing, was entirely predictable. The measure suffered from a strong turnout by conservative and elderly voters, coupled with a lackluster showing from California's younger voters, who overwhelmingly support legalization. Both trends are common in a midterm election, which is a major reason many people, including myself, believed it would have been better to place such a proposal on the November 2012 ballot.
But regardless of its defeat, Prop. 19 may well have done more for legalization efforts than anything that's come before it -- not only by generating unprecedented national debate about our marijuana laws, but also by bringing into our movement new allies like labor unions, the NAACP, and black and Latino police associations who understand the failure of our current system. The movement to end prohibition is now stronger than ever because of these new allies, who will stand by our side during future battles.
On its most basic level, Prop. 19 received more voter support than any other legalization measure to date. (Previously that record was held by the Nevada initiative that MPP backed in 2006, which received 44% of the vote.) And that growing support for change was reflected in other states, as well: The only two gubernatorial candidates in the entire country who were vocal advocates of decriminalization and medical marijuana - Vermont's Peter Shumlin and Connecticut's Dan Malloy - were both declared winners, despite running as Democrats in a year when voters overwhelmingly favored Republicans.
And while California voters didn't approve Prop. 19, vote tallies so far indicate they rejected attorney general candidate Steve Cooley (R), who is enemy number one of medical marijuana patients in California, having once said that virtually all medical marijuana dispensaries were operating illegally and should be shut down.
In local elections in many states, voters overwhelmingly backed saner marijuana laws by rejecting dispensary bans and endorsing proposals for further reform. In Massachusetts, for example, voters in 18 out of 18 legislative districts (comprising nearly 13% of the state's population) widely approved non-binding measures calling on state lawmakers to pass medical marijuana legislation or a bill to regulate marijuana like alcohol. That support will be crucial to future efforts to improve marijuana laws in Massachusetts - and it lets officials know such change is popularly supported.
So where do we go from here? For starters, I'm advocating for a pair of legalization initiatives in 2012 in California and Colorado - states where support for ending prohibition is highest. And -- keeping in mind that marijuana initiatives tend to do better in presidential election years -- MPP still hopes to place medical-marijuana initiatives on the statewide ballots of Arkansas, Idaho, Missouri, and North Dakota in 2012. (We also remain optimistic about our chances for passing medical marijuana bills in Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, and New York before then.)
In terms of Congress, we got the most important thing we wanted from the 2009-2010 Congress -- the lifting of the federal ban on the local medical marijuana law in the District of Columbia. The 2011-2012 Congress will be more hostile to marijuana, but it won't have any immediate impact, because we aren't planning to pass marijuana-related legislation anyway.
If you're still not convinced that the pendulum isn't swinging back toward prohibition, please take note of this: At the same time that Californians were casting early ballots against Prop. 19, the national polling in favor of making the use of marijuana legal rose to an all-time high of 46%, according to Gallup.
At the rate this national poll number has been rising since 1995, a majority of American adults could support making the use of marijuana legal as soon as 2013.
Marijuana prohibition's days are numbered.
Last night, San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum threw eight innings of one run baseball, racking up 10 strikeouts in the process, and leading the Giants to their first World Series victory since moving to San Francisco at the end of the 1957 season.
Why am I writing about this on the MPP blog? Because Lincecum, a former Cy Young Award winner, is one of the millions of Americans who has used marijuana and been subjected to the criminal justice system for using a substance less harmful than alcohol. Lincecum, 26, was charged with marijuana possession last year and, after a plea agreement, was forced to pay a fine. He is not, by any stretch, the first successful athlete to use marijuana and be punished for his actions.
Lincecum’s dominating performance serves as a timely reminder that marijuana prohibition makes criminals out of both everyday and extraordinary Americans. Maybe it’s a midlevel executive working mother who uses a small amount of marijuana after her kids go to bed to unwind. She’s a criminal. Maybe it’s a wounded veteran returning from Iraq who finds marijuana works best to control his PTSD. If not covered by a medical marijuana program, he’s a criminal. Or maybe he’s the leader of the free world. Yep, they were all criminals, too.
Luckily, Californians have a unique opportunity today to end this unjust criminalization of otherwise law-abiding adults by voting yes on Proposition 19.
Will California claim two historic victories in two days? We shall see.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you're probably aware of Proposition 19, the ballot measure Californians will vote on next week that would make marijuana legal for all adults and deliver an unprecedented blow to our nation's wasteful, ineffective, and destructive prohibition on a plant less harmful than alcohol.
But you may not have heard that voters in a handful of other states will have opportunities to advance saner marijuana laws on Election Day, as well. Two states, Arizona and South Dakota, have medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot. A third, Oregon, will consider expanding its existing medical marijuana law by authorizing state-licensed dispensaries.
In Vermont and Connecticut, two prospective governors - Democrats Peter Shumlin and Dan Malloy, respectively - are campaigning as supporters of marijuana decriminalization. And voters in dozens of locales in California, Colorado, and Massachusetts will vote on their own local initiatives on various marijuana-related issues. In all, there may be more at stake for marijuana reform on November 2 than in any previous election.
But before a single vote tally is reported, it should be noted that -- regardless of any results next week -- 2010 might already go down in history as a major turning point in the government's failed war on marijuana. It was the year when marijuana prohibition became ingrained as a topic of mainstream public discourse, when political strategists first openly encouraged both major parties to embrace marijuana voters, and when - without much national notice or outrage - a Western state (not California) began to enact the first widespread system of legal, licensed, and regulated marijuana stores anywhere in the nation.
The unprecedented levels of mainstream media coverage generated by Prop. 19 and other marijuana issues cannot be overlooked. When virtually every TV news outlet and major print or online publication in the country gives prominent coverage to marijuana policy, it compels millions of Americans to think seriously about this issue for perhaps the first time in their lives. People who for years may have thought regulating marijuana was a "fringe" idea unlikely to ever come to fruition will inevitably reconsider as they see mothers, former police officers, and a former U.S. surgeon general renouncing our current policies live on television.
Perhaps the most interesting detail in all that coverage was the conspicuous decline of the prohibitionist pundit. In years past, spokespeople for the Marijuana Policy Project and allied pro-reform organizations have been pitted in debates against representatives of the federal government and other talking heads who were more than willing to go on the air and twist reality in order to uphold the status quo. But this year - as my communications staff can attest - it was not uncommon for TV bookers to find it difficult, if not impossible, to confirm guests who would put themselves on the line to argue in favor of prohibition and defend policies that are being increasingly revealed as factually and morally bankrupt.
Indeed, the man who became the de facto leading voice of the opposition against Prop. 19 in California was a previously unknown recovering drug addict whose best arguments against marijuana legalization included borderline indecipherable rants about cobras, rattlesnakes, and the devil.
This intellectual void on our opponents' side, combined with increasing support for reform among voters, led most naysayers in California to abandon questioning the merits of legalization itself and focus instead on the specific language of Prop. 19. As pointed out by the Los Angeles Times:
About half of [voters] now consistently tell pollsters they want to legalize marijuana, which opponents tacitly acknowledge by aiming their arguments not at legalization but at this particular initiative, ridiculing it as flawed. The argument signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the voter guide begins: "Even if you support legalization of recreational marijuana, you should vote 'No' on Proposition 19."
It's worth noting that the Los Angeles Times itself, along with almost every other major daily newspaper in California, editorialized against Prop. 19 while also tacitly acknowledging the rationale - and in certain cases, the inevitability - behind regulating marijuana like alcohol.
In fact, this year's most telling statistic about the future of marijuana reform might be this one, from a Rasmussen poll conducted in July: Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) now believe that it is "somewhat likely" that marijuana will become legal in the United States in the next 10 years. "Just 28% do not expect this to happen," according to the poll.
Combine that growing sense of inevitability with the exceptionally high percentage of young and up-and-coming voters who passionately believe marijuana should be legal, and fundamentally changing our nation's broken marijuana laws seems more attainable than ever.
But of course nothing is guaranteed or should be taken for granted. The millions of Americans who want to see these laws change will be looking to voters in places with marijuana initiatives to cast a strong vote against the status quo and in favor of reform on November 2. MPP and others are already planning similar initiatives for future years, but we could use every bit of momentum possible to dismantle the "Berlin Wall" of marijuana prohibition.
So, if you live in one of those aforementioned states, remember to go out and vote for more sensible marijuana laws, while keeping in mind that ending marijuana prohibition in this country is achievable - and may be closer than you think.
On Sunday, masked gunmen executed 13 people in a drug rehabilitation center in Tijuana, Mexico, just across the border from San Diego. Authorities now think these grisly murders may have been in retaliation for the massive marijuana bust that occurred there last week.
Whether the victims were actually involved in the seizure of 134 tons of marijuana destined for the U.S. is unknown, but in the end it makes no difference. It is clear that the tactics of marijuana prohibition are ineffective at producing anything besides shattered lives and dead bodies. Yet stories such as this are rarely heard in the debate for marijuana reform here in the U.S., despite the fact that it is our market for illicit substances that gives cartels the power to wage war on each other and the rest of society.
American law enforcement and politicians continue to support laws that cause death and mayhem across Mexico, perhaps because they don’t have to deal with the side effects of their choices in the same manner as their counterparts south of the border. When an entire police force quits on the same day rather than face further attack, there is obviously something wrong. But can you blame them?
The Rand Corporation released a study saying that Californian voters could take a bite out of the immense profits these murderers are making in their state by passing Proposition 19 on Tuesday. Regardless of any disagreement over just how big that bite would be, it is a moral imperative to cut into the cartel coffers in any way possible. Every dollar that is spent in a taxed and regulated marijuana market could contribute to California’s schools and health care, rather than ammo and blood.
Today's just-announced $1 million donation from philanthropist George Soros should help keep the Yes on 19 TV ad running through Election Day, as well as provide a tremendous boost to crucial get-out-the-vote efforts.
From Soros's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal:
Like many parents and grandparents, I am worried about young people getting into trouble with marijuana and other drugs. The best solution, however, is honest and effective drug education. One survey after another indicates that teenagers have better access than most adults to marijuana—and often other drugs as well—and find it easier to buy marijuana than alcohol. Legalizing marijuana may make it easier for adults to buy marijuana, but it can hardly make it any more accessible to young people. I'd much rather invest in effective education than ineffective arrest and incarceration. [...]
In many respects, of course, Proposition 19 already is a winner no matter what happens on Election Day. The mere fact of its being on the ballot has elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy in ways I could not have imagined a year ago.
On Thursday of last week, I represented the Marijuana Policy Project in a historic press conference in Los Angeles, joining fellow panelists Melissa Etheridge, Danny Glover, Hal Sparks, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, and LEAP representative Steve Downing to endorse California’s Proposition 19, the measure to tax and regulate marijuana for adult use. This was the first time world-renowned celebrities have spoken out in favor of Proposition 19, decrying the failed policy of prohibition.
Melissa Etheridge, a breast cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, called on the federal government to authorize further research of marijuana’s medical applications. Danny Glover talked about the prisoners he has seen, in the course of his lifetime of activism, who are locked up for non-violent marijuana offenses. Gary Johnson cited our nations’ culture of incarceration, locking up more of our own people than any other industrialized nation.
At one point, a reporter asked the celebrities if they had been paid by the Proposition 19 campaign to deliver their endorsements. They each replied “no” but then Hal Sparks offered this caveat, “I will benefit financially if Proposition 19 passes, in that my tax dollars will no longer be wasted on a policy that doesn’t work.” So true! The whole state will benefit to the tune of at least a billion dollars a year, the amount California currently spends enforcing marijuana prohibition. (And that doesn’t include the tax revenue that would be generated!)
I closed my own statement by reading a quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”
Let’s be that courageous state. Vote yes on Proposition 19!
(Pictured above, from left: Danny Glover, Melissa Etheridge, Hal Sparks, and MPP's Sarah Lovering.)