The Marijuana Victories That Got Overlooked - and Still Lie Ahead

Nov 04, 2010

California, Election 2010, Prop 19, Proposition 19

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.