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Feature: California Marijuana Initiative Has Slim Lead

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #633)
Drug War Issues

According to two different polls released Wednesday, the Tax Cannabis California marijuana legalization initiative is ahead but not by much, making the path to victory in November a rough one. Both polls show the initiative winning, but just barely, and both polls show the initiative hovering around 50% support. On the other hand, polling also shows remarkably high support for the concept of marijuana legalization in some form -- especially when the word legalization is not used.

initiative proponent Richard Lee, working with a student at the Oaksterdam University medical marijuana school
In an internal campaign poll, when voters read either the ballot measure's title or the attorney general's summary of it -- all voters will see when they cast their votes -- the initiative garners 51% and 52%, respectively, with opposition at 40%. In a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll, 49% approved of the initiative, while 48% opposed it.

The standard wisdom among initiative veterans is that campaigns should begin with support around 60%. They argue that once a campaign begins, opponents will find ways to shave off percentage points, and if you are starting with only half the voters on your side, losing any support means you lose.

With such a tight margin, expect both proponents and opponents to be energized in the six months between now and the November vote. Initiative organizers have to be concerned with the narrowness of their lead, especially given that attacks on the whole notion of pot legalization in general and on specific provisions of the initiative will only mount between now and then.

The initiative would tax and regulate marijuana much the way alcohol is now. It would legalize the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and allowing the growing of a 25-square-foot garden throughout the state, but would give counties and municipalities the local option of whether to allow taxed, regulated marijuana sales or not.

Additional findings from both polls provide further detail on where the initiative does -- and does not -- have support, and offer hints of where the campaign is going to have its work cut out for it. Among the PPIC poll's other findings:

  • Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) favor legalization. Thirty-four percent of Republicans are in favor.

  • Most San Francisco Bay Area residents (56%) are in favor. Residents in other regions are either divided or opposed.
  • Most Latinos (62%) oppose legalization. A majority of whites (56%) are in favor.
  • Men (54%) are more likely to be in favor. Less than half (42%) of women favor legalization.
  • Support for legalization decreases with age. 56 percent of adults aged 18-34 are in favor, compared with 42 percent aged 55 and older.

The additional findings from the initiative's internal poll are the surprising ones:

  • 76% say marijuana is already being used in the state and ought be regulated.

  • 74% say marijuana ought be regulated like tobacco and alcohol.
  • 69% say the initiative will bring the state needed revenue.
  • 61% say marijuana is easier for minors to obtain than alcohol.
  • 60% say it will save the state money.
  • 57% say it will put police priorities where they belong.

These number will provide the initiative campaign with a number of promising avenues of attack in the coming months, but they also speak to the disconnect between attitudes favorable to marijuana legalization in the abstract and actually voting for a concrete measure. To win, the campaign is going to have to close that gap, convincing voters that the initiative will do what voters themselves suggest they want.

"This is further evidence that voters remain eager to replace a failed policy with a more honest, commonsense solution that will control and tax marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, generate critically needed revenue, and reduce crime by putting police resources where they belong, while ending the black market," campaign spokesman Dan Newman told the Chronicle.

"The numbers reflect what I've said all along -- it's going to be a tough battle," said Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML. "It's going to take a lot of work to maintain a lead. There is a tendency for voters to vote no on initiatives, and this is a nasty year with a nasty turnout of angry right-wingers not inclined to support these things. It's also an off-year, when students and progressives are less likely to vote."

"Depending on how Richard Lee is doing building a campaign organization, building support, and raising funds, this has a real chance," said long-time drug reformer Eric Sterling. "It would have a profound impact if it wins. It will have extremely important political consequences. It upsets the international treaties, it completely changes what the US can say to its foreign partners about drug policy," he argued, making the case for getting behind the initiative.

"Anyone who works in drug policy and underestimates the long-term impact of a victory makes a mistake," Sterling said. "People should really think about committing themselves to making monthly contributions by credit card and encouraging everyone they know to get on the list. This is really worth it. If activists all around the country committed themselves to raising some money for the campaign and started having bake sales and pot lucks and the like, that pool of money could be like the kind of contributions that brought Obama an electoral victory. It is certainly doable."

Democrats would be well-advised to embrace the campaign, said Sterling. "With the polling showing that Democrats and young people support this, it seems to me that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee interested in getting Sen. Boxer reelected and the National Democratic Governor's Association interested in getting a Democrat elected governor and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee would be interested in issues that appeal to Democrats and young people. They need to mobilize some fraction of the electorate that voted for Obama two years ago," he argued. "If they don't, they won't have the turnout and the success they seek."

It would be good politics for Democrats, Sterling said. "They need to encourage their candidates to support it when they can and think about their strategies to tamp down the opposition. They can make the necessary warnings that they're not pro-drug, but trying to regulate it and protect children and bring revenue into the public coffers."

But Democrats aren't known for their backbone on this issue, said Gieringer. "Democrats should like this on the ballot because it encourages turnout by young Democratic and liberal voters, so there is a lot of support in Democratic quarters for that reason," Gieringer said. "But the Democratic Party of California has never even endorsed medical marijuana; they are scared of the drug issue and scared of the crime issue. Anti-crime measures do very well here, and a lot of Democratic elected officials, like a lot of the public, regard the initiative as a 'pro-crime' measure," he pointed out.

The organized opposition, consisting of law enforcement groups, anti-drug community groups, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving coalesced into an anti-initiative coalition called Public Safety First, was quick to go on the attack. "These numbers certainly suggest a great deal of voter skepticism out there," noted group spokesman Tim Rosales in a Wednesday news release. "This is before voters have received any information about this measure's truly numerous flaws."

Citing the initiative's poll findings that large majorities want pot regulated like alcohol and tobacco and that the initiative would bring in needed revenue, Rosales continued his broadside, previewing opposition arguments likely to be fined honed by November. "Those numbers basically show that this measure cannot pass, once voters know what it does and doesn't do," said Rosales. "This measure doesn't regulate marijuana, it does just the opposite. Furthermore, the initiative specifically forbids the state to tax marijuana, so they are basically giving voters a huge reason to vote 'No.'"

In fact, the measure gives cities and counties the option of taxing and regulating marijuana sales. While leaving taxation and regulation to local authorities will not help the state government address its perpetual budget crisis, it will help cash-strapped local governments who desperately need increased revenues to avoid service cuts and lay-offs.

That the opposition is organized and ready to put up a fight is clear. What is less clear is the support the initiative will receive from California's large and multi-faceted marijuana industry. "Marijuana users are overwhelmingly in favor of the initiative, but most of the money in the marijuana lobby at the moment is in medical marijuana, and those folks are happy with things as they are and are not exactly jumping to open up competition like this. And some growers are seriously worried, so there are important parts of the movement that are not necessarily excited," the veteran California activist said.

We're less than six months from Election Day. Victory is in grasp, but so is defeat. These next few months are going to be very interesting indeed.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Scott Tudehope (not verified)

It's time to pull off our rose tinted glasses and get this stuff out in the open. I know one thing: as soon as we legalize marijuana, I'm quitting teaching and opening up my marijuana and tobacco store here in Tracy. Watch them line up.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 2:04pm Permalink
Michael 1340 (not verified)

In reply to by Scott Tudehope (not verified)

The Tea Party is just a start. Like Obama used ACORN to get people registered to vote we need to form a pot seed group or someting , get people registered to vote, & get bthem to the polls. We can have our country back & we can still have change. We know we can't wait on those elected servants who's only job is to protect our freedoms, because to them the issue of legalized marijuana looks like political suicide, & after all their whole purpose is to get reelected into their cushie job with health care & retirement just under Obama's defination of rich enough to pay more taxes. We can have our country back & have laws we want only. We must come together on this one. If we do legalize it we can stop many of the ilegal aliens coming over the border with Marijuana, we can supply our own & keep the money here in our own economy, & if it is taxed we can toke our out of debt with a grin on our chin. Sell it to people over twenty one in a tavern or pharmacy . It is ludicriss to spend billions of dollars on a plant which was given to man by Almighty God. (Genesis 1:29) The plant could be taxed & be something that becomes profitable, but insted is denied to the populas who want it. George Washington called on the growth of more hemp to build ships. It is organic. It is not a strepping stone for more drug use. It is presently as it is sold by pushers selling coke, meth, pot, & depressents. Being underground a person is bombarded with the product most profitable to the pushers. If it were sold legally people would not be influenced by sombody who is selling drugs with out any kind of pharmacudical education.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:44pm Permalink
Freedom is peace (not verified)

A victory for marijuana this November has huge implications around the world. I like the idea of people raising money across the country to help this thing win.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 2:29pm Permalink

The movement needs to utilize law enforcement voices who favor a repeal of prohibition; namely COPs and LEAP. Using LE to go toe-to-toe with cops who say keep it illegal will blunt their message.

Emphasize how much LE in CA will NOT spend chasing the green plant. We need those numbers now!

"Arrest Willie Nelson or pedophiles? It's a no-brainer"....stay with slogans like that and we will win.

Misty and I will arrive Labor Day Weekend and will stay thru election day.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 2:40pm Permalink
maxwood (not verified)

1. Abstain from using hatefearteasing words like "pot", "dope", "drug", "shit" etc. when referring to cannabis (industrial, medicinal or inspirational). Even "marijuana" is dubious-- it sounds like a non-Anglo word for "American" which riles up millions of unconscious bigots. "Cannabis" has made headway recently thanks to Wikipedia, and it turns out to be best anyway because of this match-up:

Man's best friend (animal)...............CANIS
Man's best friend (vegetative)..........CANNABIS

2. Remind MADD Mothers Against Drunk Driving of this: thousands of lives would be saved if a toke (or several) were substituted for a beer (or binge) at that party prior to having to get the car home out of uncertain neighborhood.

3. The main perpetrator and beneficiary of cannabis prohibition over the decades has been Big 2WackGo which wants kids to binge on alcohol because they will turn to a "cigarette or two" to sober up enough to try driving home from the party, leading to lifelong addiction at $2000-a-year pak-a-day rates. Do anything and everything you can to destroy the hot burning overdose $igarette marketing empire which funds anti-cannabis campaigns, candidates, public officials, government tax/bribe revenue$ etc.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:06pm Permalink
newageblues (not verified)

that a safer alternative to alcohol is needed. They can't get the problem child alcohol banned, they probably don't even want to ban it, they'd rather take their frustration out on users of the far, far less lethal substance cannabis. Doesn't it occur to them that they''re forcing people to use alcohol to get high? What a farce.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 4:36pm Permalink
Anonymous0 (not verified)

We've had numerous reputable cops (Norm Stamper, Jack Cole, etc) support marijuana regulation in Nevada and we had dozens of faith leaders come out in support of regulation. You have to counter Mothers Against Drunk Driving with your mothers.

It's time to also put a coalition of parents together and let their voices be heard. I'm not just talking about the pot-promoting parents group started by NORML, because there are too many stereotypes attached to that group. Campaign2010 will lose if they can't find enough parents who don't smoke pot to support regulation in California. It's these parents who are going to vote in large numbers and you need to modify your message to reach these people. We had 52% in Nevada in the summer time and ended up with 44% in November, because not one time did that campaign organize parents. You can't just ride on the bad economy.

Fri, 05/21/2010 - 11:46pm Permalink
franklin (not verified)

How many plants can you put in a 5x5 foot patch? I don't think we need quite so tight of controls. We are better off now unless they loosen up the controls. Who knows if some redneck cop hauls you in for having 30 square feet, we need to negotiate.

Sat, 05/22/2010 - 12:31am Permalink
ldmz (not verified)

I received my sample ballot and was a little disappointed that the tax initiative wasn't on there. A little political wrangling behiind the scenes by those opposed?

Maybe. LETS WIN!

Mon, 05/24/2010 - 1:50pm Permalink
vladmunch (not verified)

we have the inalienable rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

the grassroots YEARN for wise leadership and unity of purpose.

if not now, when?

Mon, 05/24/2010 - 2:42pm Permalink
Moonrider (not verified)

In reply to by vladmunch (not verified)

Then utilize these tools: and

Tell the "leadership" what we want. DEMAND repeal of the unconstitutional anti-drug laws!

I'm pro-choice on EVERYTHING!

Tue, 05/25/2010 - 1:02pm Permalink

"On the other hand, polling also shows remarkably high support for the concept of marijuana legalization in some form -- especially when the word legalization is not used."

Would it help to use "re-legalize" instead of the dreaded "L" word?

Best wishes with the opposition from within. That's just awful and selfish.

Mon, 05/24/2010 - 9:27pm Permalink
Sad times (not verified)

This initiative doesn't legalize cannabis. This initiative further criminalizes cannabis. This initiative is a cynical power play by Richard Lee and other large medical growers. It is not the - or even an - answer to the cannabis issue. It should be exposed and defeated. Which is a terrible shame, since it will be a severe setback for the legalization movement. This initiative is on the ballot due to Lee's money buying the signatures. Period. It is a disaster.

Wed, 06/02/2010 - 7:39pm Permalink

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