ourteen years after California decided marijuana could be used as a medicine and ignited a national movement, the state is likely to vote on whether to take another step into the vanguard of drug liberalization: legalizing the controversial weed for fun and profit.[UPDATE 3/24/2010 PST: State officials have announced that the initiative will be on the November ballot.]
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County elections officials must turn in their count of valid signatures collected in the county on a statewide legalization initiative. The number is virtually certain to be enough to qualify the initiative for the November ballot, according to a tally kept by state election officials.
That will once again make California the focal point of the long-stewing argument over marijuana legalization, a debate likely to be a high-dollar brawl between adversaries who believe it could launch or stifle another national trend.
The campaign will air issues that have changed little over the years. Proponents will cite the financial and social cost of enforcing pot prohibition and argue that marijuana is not as dangerous and addictive as tobacco or alcohol. Opponents will highlight marijuana-linked crimes, rising teenage use and the harm the weed causes some smokers.
But the debate also will play out against a cultural landscape that has changed substantially, with marijuana moving from dark street corners to neon-lit suburban boutiques. In the months since the Obama administration ordered drug agents to lay off dispensaries, hundreds have opened, putting pot within easy reach of most Californians. Whether voters view this de facto legalization with trepidation or equanimity could shape the outcome.
The above Los Angeles Times article is a good read that outlines the players and the supporters (the New York Times last year also had a good overview on the movement). Frankly, I think that this stands a good chance of winning this fall (here's the ten-page proposal).
Propositions are practically a cottage industry in California, and there's an art to getting them passed. If it's a conservative issue, it stands a much better chance of being approved in an off-year election, particularly a primary election like in June or earlier, when the average Californian is less likely to vote, so those that can rally their base — which is more likely to be supporters of hot-button conservative issues — have a much better chance of winning.
On the other hand, if it's something more liberal, then a general election is better because a whipped-up conservative base gets drowned out by the everyday moderates and liberals who can't be bothered to vote in the primaries.
In other words, if this were on the June ballot, it might not pass, but in November it probably will. And if this can galvanize young people the way Obama did, it could bring out more liberals and moderates, who would be more likely to vote to keep the Democratic House members who supported Obamacare.
Lots of people in California support this because marijuana exists — and is prominently used in many places — despite its illegal status, so there's an impression that the genie is out of the bottle (a very different situation from South Korea) so it's better to regulate and control it than keep it underground and illicit. There's also a strong movement to tax the weed to earn a billion or two and help pay down the state's debt.
Personally, I am almost certain to vote for it, as long as the state has strict laws against regarding abuse and abusers, like those who drive while high or those who use it habitually while having jobs where safety or security is a concern.