Back in 2010, California had a chance to become the first state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana with Prop 19.
But Prop 19 didn’t pass. You would think California, with its gentle people wearing flowers in their hair, would have no problem approving the legal sale and use of marijuana for adults.
Of course, only outsiders think California’s demographics resemble some modern-day Woodstock. The reality is that the state is full of conservative pockets (cities such as Newport Beach, Roseville, and Redding are known to be Republican strongholds, and their respective countries voted for Romney over Obama in the last presidential election).
California is more politically diverse than some might expect, but so were Prop 19’s supporters. There were college kids and old hippies, of course. But plenty of people who weren’t even interested in getting high themselves saw the benefits of Prop 19: murderous drug cartels would lose a major source of income, the worst members of the police would have one less tool to use to suppress minorities, and then there’s the double-edged budget-balancing effect of having less people for the state to support in prison while at the same time collecting millions of dollars in new tax revenue.
These benefits earned Prop 19 the endorsements of a former US Surgeon General, the National Black Police Association, the California chapter of the NAACP, and California’s largest union, the Service Employees Internationals Union.
Prop 19 also enjoyed decent polling for a while – Reuters polled 2,004 Californians through September 19 – 26, 2010 and found 52% in favor of Prop 19 and 41% opposed with 7% undecided. But the poll numbers got worse in October. In November, the final vote ended up being 53.5% opposed vs. 46.5% in favor. What went wrong, exactly?
Young People Don’t Turn Out to Vote
Life is inherently unpredictable, but there are a few constants: death, taxes, and young people failing to show up at the polls. The under-25 demographic supports marijuana legalization far more than any other age group, and they just didn’t turn out. Compounding that problem was that 2010 was a mid-term rather than a presidential yeas, which always makes the youth vote even less of a factor (this won’t be a problem in 2016, thankfully).
The Eric Holder-led Justice Department Promised a Fight
Even now, with 4 states currently allowing the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes, THC is classified Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act. That’s means it’s still illegal under federal law. Eric Holder was the attorney general in 2010, and he promised to still enforce federal law even if Prop 19 passed. In 2013, when Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, Holder softened that stance.
Now, there’s a movement to put legalizing marijuana for adults over the age of 21 up to a vote in the state once again, with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) currently making its way onto California’s statewide ballot this November.
AUMA has a much better chance of passing than Prop 19 ever did. That’s because California would no longer be the guinea pig that shows the rest of the country what happens when marijuana is legalized.
Since 2010, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska have legalized recreational marijuana, and in those 4 states, the sky did not fall. What actually happened is a reduction in crime, millions of dollars in savings, and millions more in revenue that will go toward building schools, community health centers, and other public facilities.
With the effects of recreation marijuana no longer being such an unknown, it’s going to be harder for anti-marijuana activists to make their case this time. This time it should pass.