California’s Proposition 19 failed at the polls last night, gaining only 46% of the vote. Here are some observations and thoughts [Thursday Updates below]:
– Despite the vote result, recreational marijuana users in California will still be able to purchase and consume high-quality marijuana. With the current system California has now, recreational users just have to visit any one of the doctors around the state who are willing to take their money in return for a medical authorization card. Technically, that makes them “medicinal” users, but the reality is that many of the people who hold medicinal authorizations are either suffering from rather superficial things or completely making it up. Once you have that card, however, you can buy marijuana at any of the state’s many dispensaries. And for those who haven’t taken the time to get a medical authorization, a sizable black market outside of the dispensary system continues to exist.
If anyone in California went to the polls yesterday thinking that their vote on Proposition 19 would have an impact on anyone’s ability to buy or consume marijuana, they were mistaken (the one exception to that is minors, who will still be able to purchase marijuana without having to show proof of age). What Proposition 19 would have done is to establish regulations for the overall industry. Proposition 19 was much more about the back door of the dispensary than the front door. It would have allowed for local and county governments to establish rules and regulations for production and distribution. As it stands now, dispensaries still supply themselves from unregulated growers without any oversight. For now, the DEA has backed off a bit on trying to take down these growers, but supply chains are still largely secret, and a certain percentage of the suppliers are tied to organized crime. The defeat of Proposition 19 was a very clear victory for the drug cartels in Mexico, who would have had an extremely hard time competing in a regulated marketplace.
– It’s not entirely clear how much of an impact Proposition 19 had on the rest of the ballot, but there are some strong signs that it helped California Democrats across the board. Democrats won every single statewide office in the state, from Governor to Insurance Commissioner. People tended to be focused on looking at the youth vote when assessing the effect of Proposition 19, but that was only part of the picture:
But judging by exit polling, which shows a strong conservative tide elsewhere in the country, the conservative surge did not materialize in California. This year’s electorate ended up looking a lot like 2006, according to exit poll data from both years.
Conservatives made up 33% of the California electorate this time around, according to preliminary results from this year’s California exit poll. Four years ago, the figure was 30%. Liberals made up 27% this time, compared with 25% four years ago. The percentage of self-identified moderates dropped to 40% this time, compared with 44% in 2006, the exit poll showed.
A similar pattern showed up when the exit poll asked voters what party they usually identify with. This time around, the results were 42% Democratic, 31% Republican and 27% independent. That compares with 40% Democrats, 35% Republicans and 25% independents in 2006.
While the 18-29 turnout in California was only modestly above average (13% vs. 11%), the enthusiasm of Democratic and liberal voters of all ages seems to have been greater in California than elsewhere. It may not have been enough to get Proposition 19 passed, but it appears to have helped negate the Republican wave in that state.
– One of the more interesting subplots of the initiative was the opposition coming from folks within the existing medical marijuana community. Even Dennis Peron, the man behind California’s initial medical marijuana law, opposed Proposition 19 using some rather bizarre reasoning. Other opponents of Proposition 19 were small growers who feared that legalization would lead to bigger corporations eating into their market share. In fact, the initiative got under 50% in the two rural counties notorious for growing much of the state’s marijuana, Humboldt and Mendocino. In response to this circular firing squad, one Proposition 19 supporter is now compiling a boycott list.
The sources of support and opposition for Proposition 19 were never as simple as potheads vs parents. The reason it went down had less to do with people’s moral views of pot (surveys have long shown that legalization in general has well over 50% support in California) than with discomfort over the specifics of this particular attempt at establishing regulation. Newspapers across the state, as well as the major politicians in each party, came out against the measure, finding enough gray areas (and inventing others) to defeat the measure and postpone the inevitable for a few more years. And as Kevin Drum points out here, California’s initiative-driven economic mess is only going to get worse, making it even more urgent for the state to figure out how to collect tax revenue on all that money being made by marijuana growers – many of whom were quite content to see Proposition 19 fail.
UPDATE: A few more items from Thursday:
– Matt Yglesias has some really sharp analysis here and provides a graph showing the demographic breakdown differences for all ages from 2008 to 2010.
If the demographic breakdown would have been like it was in 2008, the initiative would have still failed, but with a much closer margin (48.4% vs. 51.6%).
– Jeffrey Miron, the Harvard Professor who’s done a lot of great work on the economic impacts of drug legalization, has some self-serving concern trolling here. While I thought that Miron’s criticisms of some of the economic hyperbole of Prop 19 supporters were very valuable, anyone trying to win a statewide initiative effort should probably ignore most of what he’s saying. He gives very good advice for winning a policy debate with your wonky friends, but winning a statewide initiative campaign is a different beast altogether. Sometimes, if not most of the time, using hyperbole rather than reason is the better strategy. I don’t necessarily like this, but it’s the truth.
I think the campaign against I-1100 proved this. The fiscal reasons to vote against I-1100 were far more solid than the public safety issues, but the campaign hammered on the latter while largely ignoring the former. And that strategy appeared to work. People were largely scared at what would happen if access to alcohol was expanded, even though there’s little evidence to show that expanded access has any measurable detrimental effects. Miron believes that marijuana legalization campaigns should focus on the personal liberty aspects of legalization moreso than the public safety aspects. I think that would be a huge mistake.
– Steve Elliott has more insight into the widespread opposition to Proposition 19 from the marijuana growers themselves, who feared that they would lose their foothold in the current unregulated supply chain for the state’s dispensaries.