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Why Prop 19 Failed And What Will Happen Now

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In case you didn’t know already Prop 19, the marijuana legalization bill, was defeated by voters in California’s mid-term elections.  Much to the dismay of the Golden State’s many pot-lovers, the drug will remain illegal for all intents and purposes in California, but nonetheless still be available for all those with chronic migraines.

There are many reasons why Prop 19 failed; however the larger question is what will happen now among legalization enthusiasts and the legalization movement in general?

But back to the first question: why didn’t Prop 19 pass?  I think its failure can be attributed to a number of factors:

Voter Apathy

Despite a slightly higher voter turnout for this election, many supporters of Prop 19 failed to actually vote or even register to vote for their beloved marijuana legalization.  Who were these voters?  Here’s a hint: this demographic generally smokes up a lot despite the fact that homework still poses a problem in their lives.  Give up?

Youth voters.  Specifically, those in the 18 to 24 year old demographic.  This large and potentially game-changing group continues to remain blissfully unaware of their power to change state and national governance.  Many polls indicated that despite heavy support for Prop 19 among young people, many of those polled stated they didn’t intend to vote for its passage citing a number of reasons such as distrust of the democratic process and not believing their vote would affect the proposition’s outcome.  All of this is code of course for being too lazy.  Older voters on the other hand turned up in record numbers to ensure Prop 19 was crushed.

Questionable Monetary Gain

As Prop 19’s campaign continued, many questions began to emerge over how much money its passage would actually bring to California.  Conflicting research reports started to raise doubts over the original $1.4 billion tax revenue estimates; some citing the figure could be as low as $351 million.  Furthermore, the potential immediate loss of federal funding, estimated at over $9 billion if Prop 19 passed, served to further degrade the proposition’s support.

Though it was estimated that Prop 19 could have saved California over $17 billion annually, many viewed this potential savings as more speculative and not as real or immediate as the impending federal funding loss.  Growers and distributors of marijuana also started to worry about their earnings.  Currently medical marijuana remains a highly profitable niche market.  The thinking became if Prop 19 passed, the price of marijuana would drop significantly as new growers and distributors entered and competed in the market, ultimately resulting in lower profit margins.

Federal Government’s Vow To Fight Legalization

Though marijuana would be legal in California if Prop 19 passed, it would still remain illegal under federal law.  US Attorney General Eric Holder stated that if California legalized pot he’d prosecute those who imbibed in the drug to the full extent of federal law.  This stance was backed by the president and, if legalization occurred, would likely have create a Prohibition Era-like situation in which DEA agents would be converging on California.  It would have also tied up the state in a lengthy and expensive legal battle.  All of this made Prop 19 look less and less sexy.

It also didn’t help that the Gov. Schwarzenegger reduced marijuana possession to an infraction right before the election in a transparent attempt to kill off support.

Ultimately though, despite the fact Prop 19 was defeated, it’s likely that we haven’t heard the last of this push for legalization.  Prop 19 failed only by a 6 percent margin; this reflects Californians’ changing sentiments toward the drug.  Furthermore, attitudes toward decriminalization across the country seem to be lightening, too, especially among young people.  The question isn’t why Prop 19 and other similar bills continue to fail, but rather when will the young adults of today finally outnumber the older generation and legalize marijuana?

For now though, we’ll likely see Richard Lee and the folks over at Oaksterdam University continue to lobby for the Prop 19 inevitable return to the ballot in the next election cycle.

Ken LaMance

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