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Why Prop 19 Didn't Pass (And Why We'll Win Next Time)

Despite its defeat on Tuesday, Prop 19 has been widely hailed as a watershed moment for the marijuana reform movement, and I'm happy to concur. We didn't win, but we didn’t lose very badly either, and we sure as hell gained more ground than our opposition. For anyone surprised or disappointed by the outcome, let me break down why I think the vote turned out the way it did, and why we have a lot to look forward to.

The bottom line is that this was not a presidential election year. Doing this campaign in a midterm election put us at a significant disadvantage. When the White House is up for grabs, young voters turn out in huge numbers, guaranteeing big points for an issue like marijuana reform. This means we could likely win by running basically the same campaign in 2012. It's really important that we emphasize this fact as much as possible, because we don't want anyone underestimating public support for legalization. Tell your friends: we lost because of timing, not lack of public support.

As much as it sucks to find ourselves waiting once again, this is just part of the process, and it's a process that increasingly favors us the longer it continues. Aside from the part where we lost, the fight for Prop 19 has been awesome. The case for legalizing marijuana has never received so much exposure and mainstream support, and we get to take all of it home with us. What did we get?

1. We walk away with new allies, new friends, and new funders, all of whom are likely to stand with us again in the near future.

2. We walk away with marijuana decriminalized in California. Even if our opponents used decriminalization as an argument against Prop 19, it's still an important step forward.

3. We walk away with record high national support for legalizing marijuana. By campaigning in California, we gained new supporters across the country and they will remain on our side.

There is no doubt that the failure of multiple marijuana reform initiatives this election cycle will be spun by some as evidence that the momentum of our movement has abated. I invite anyone who believes this to go ahead and forget about us. Forget who we are and what we represent, forget how close we came to legalizing marijuana in the nation's largest state during a midterm election with a modest budget, and forget that we'll be back in two years pushing harder than ever before. Forget about us and get some rest, my drug warrior friends, because you're going to need it.

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And don't forget...

The proposal put forward in 2012 will be a better written and more complete piece of legislation. Those who support reform but opposed prop 19 will not have any excuses two years from now.

The science and facts will continue to come out, and more people will realize the futility of prohibition. In the age of the internet and easily accessed knowledge, fear and scare tactics will not continue to drive our drug policies.


And to those of us who do inhale... conduct yourself with maturity and responsibility. Show the doubters that those who use marijuana are reasonable adults and not dumb stoners.

reply to alex

you hit it right on the head ,that MJ users are reasonable adults,this is not about some big bong party it's about stopping a losing and pointless war. if tobacco and alcohol are legal there is NO reason MJ should be illegal it's that simple!

Look at the facts

I am a long time friend of the refer and I happen to work in the industry that is plowing the fields you all have enjoyed for so long. Now you slap us in the face a want to vote for full legalization and hand over our natural fields to dirty corporate scum. you all should be ashamed of yourself as you vote yes for the second coming of companies like Phillip Morris..... 


We need to focus on improving our own quality of lives instead of destroying a black market so the GOV has more funds, they obviously haven't done so hot in the past with a higher tax revenue, so why screw over all the cash croppers out there. Open your eyes if you smoke. You will see that it is bad and if you don't well you wont have anything to gain from having it go legal. Our brothers and sisters that are locked up for it well I am sorry I have been there before, but  if we want reform then by god we need to be the ones who write it.


How many people have to go to jail, lose their homes and families and jobs to protect your precious black market job? And don't give me that hogwash about decrim...sonny, I'm old enough to be able to remember when it was decriminalized before, and then re-criminalized, just a few years later, with harsher penalties than before. So if you fell for that, you're a sucker. Stop letting your own petty greed and fear get in the way of justice. If I knew who you were, I wouldn't buy your weed anyway, traitor. 

When the White House is up for grabs, young voters turn out.....

"When the White House is up for grabs, young voters turn out in huge numbers, guaranteeing big points for an issue like marijuana reform."

If the campaign is focusing mostly on the under age 30 crowd and not their parents, it will fail in 2012 especially in Colorado.  If the regular spokespeople for the campaign are people under age 30.

This movement seriously needs a facelift.  Shore up support where its lacking: white mothers ages 40-49.  Get a good-looking, confident, professional Republican (or Republican-looking) white mother of teen and college-age youth who can act the part on the public stage, then the legalization campaign has a good chance of winning majoritty support outside of the California Bay area, because you won't play right into the stereotype of a liberal college-age fraternity/sorority stoners being your base of support.  The campaign will have to pay a little more to find a mother who can act in this role, but that person will be able to attract many other mothers like them. 

People need to relate to the campaign's spokespersons.  Middle-age mothers speaking out that we are driving too many college-age youth to drink is a powerful message.  This is a plan that will work regardless if Obama loses his ass in 2012. 

There was lots of "mom" support in 2010

I agree that we're better off as we get more people involved with the legalization movement, especially outside of typical pro-legalization demographics.  But it's not as if the 2010 effort didn't include support from exactly the sorts of people you're describing:

I think the problem has less to do with demographic balances and more to do with the initiative itself.  The general concept of marijuana legalization enjoys comfortable majority support in the western US.  But Prop 19 got killed in the major California newspaper editorials, and most of the opposition seemed to involve questions about initiative specifics rather than support for prohibition.  I suspect that if an initiative were drafted with more of an eye toward those concerns -- and perhaps even up-front cooperation with pro-legalization but anti-19 forces in the media -- it would do much better.  Remember, the polls on 19 were looking really good until the major editorials against it started piling up.

Again, I totally agree that more diverse support for legalization would be a great thing, but I'm not convinced that Prop 19 failed because of a lack of diversity among the advocates.  I think California (and probably Colorado) is ready for legalization if it comes in the right package.

Re: There was lots of "mom" support in 2010

"But it's not as if the 2010 effort didn't include support from exactly the sorts of people you're describing:"

That press conference held just two weeks before Election Day was Yes on 19's pathetic response to their internal polls showing 60 percent of the likely white mother voters were against Prop. 19.  They should have seen it coming a mile a way.  After all, look at the 2006 legalization campaign in Nevada: Polls showed repeated majorities over the summer then starting mid-September poll dropped 8-10 points to minority support (we had LEAP and dozens of religious leaders supporting Yes on 7).  All of our losses go back to the voting mothers ages 40+.  If you want to win, you need these people to maintain around 60 percent voter support in the polls to cushion the near election decline in support?  We need a good-looking, smart, charming middle-age mother to be a spokesperson from beginning to end to be the reassuring voice to other mothers.  The spokesperson in the following video did not even look like the mother of a teen or college student, nor Republican:

The "big purple elephant in the room" is that we reach out to everyone but the middle-age white mothers who make up a large percentage of the people that can still vote but who are least likely to currently support us.  They have just as much stake in this fight (after all, it's their children binge drinking in their dorm rooms and it's their husbands turning to alcoholism and sometimes domestic violence). 

Finally, it's the lamest excuse to blame Prop. 19's failure on the lack of youth voter turnout and the surge of  so-called "conservative" voters when it didn't stop Gov. Jerry Brown and Senator Barbara Boxer from getting elected.  These excuses have been made repeatedly after every failed legalization campaign, which have been all of them.  If you look at the exit polls we failed tremendously in the results department, nearly all of the counties that show majority support for Prop 19 were concentrated in the San Francisco Bay area and the rest of counties throughout the state voted it down.

Did we need to spend $3-4 million to get only the Bay Area to support marijuana legalization?  Rob Kampia's MPP abandoned their 2010 Nevada ballot initiative (which would have been their 6th attempt) because they couldn't even get past 45 percent of voter support in the polls from the time their campaign started in 2009.  Think long and hard about that:  Since the first MPP ballot initiative in 1998, we haven't made serious head way in a state of whorehouses, casinos, and rampant alcohol problems fostered by 24/7 liquor stores because of the supposedly "conservative" voters and lack of youths?

Yes on 19 wasn't a complete a failure.  They got their name in a ton of news, so it was only a total failure where it counts the most.

"Older" Reps

There have been far more older and respectable endorsers of legalization this time around. I point to Judge Gray, the great folks at LEAP, George Soros, lots of soccer moms and professional business women. Former Surgeon General Elders for cryin out loud.

Yes, its true more Rotary Club members on our side will boost the next turnout but compared to the face of legalization of the '90s we've all grown up just a bit. There weren't many PTA members to canvas in Grateful Dead parking lots...

Lots of soccer moms and professional business women

Where did middle-age moms play any serious role in the Yes on 19 campaign; other than that one press conference two weeks before the campaign, where the spokesperson was not middle-age.  I didn't see any TV ads with middle age moms speaking to other moms?  Please clear this up. 

Another demographic we need

Another demographic we need is low income black moms. We need a whole group of moms who have teenagers who speak from they're perspective about the harm that prohibition does to their neighborhoods and the danger it puts their kids in (not just in terms of getting arrested, but in terms of gang violence). Latino moms too. They won't just speak to gather support from their own communities, but from every community. The NAACP's support was a great start, but we really need a lot more representation from low income blacks (and latinos too). White soccer moms won't get it the way minority moms will; someone who's lived in a neighborhood that has really felt the brunt of drug gangs. Prohibition is a deeply classist, racist problem, and when we can find the right people to explain that, we'll gather a lot of support from a lot of people (of all economic classes and races) who so far have not gotten it. We need both the soccer moms and the minority moms. 

White soccer moms won't get it the way minority moms will....

"White soccer moms won't get it the way minority moms will; someone who's lived in a neighborhood that has really felt the brunt of drug gangs."

Treblebass, you are so right.  However, we should also reach out to Latino moms because they were least likely, along with white moms, to support Prop 19 (43 Latino and 42% White women supported Prop 19 compared to 47% of black women ---- White, Black, and Latino Men showed 50, 47 and 48% support, respectively.).  Many Latino women are also experienced with gang violence in their neighborhoods and there's more Latino voters by far than Black voters.  However, just because White women are least likely to be impacted by the gang violence argument doesn't mean there are not other effective arguments, such as marijuana is much safer than alcohol, an argument that can reach women across all demographics.  Alcohol is also a major contributor to gang and domestic violence in Latino communities.  Finally, the next campaign needs to mostly focus on the older moms of teen and college-age youth if it is going to sustain 60% support in the polls, just barely cutting 50% won't cut it as we know.  That will require a serious effort to reach out to those White and Latino moms, who make up a large percentage of California voters.  Latinos in general are very family-oriented, so instead of screaming about the freedom to use marijuana and civil liberties violations of marijuana prohibition, we need to focus on how our alcohol-only laws creates more chaos for our families and communities.

Exit polls for Prop 19:



I strongly support Anon9's outlook

This is always the problem for drug reform - the intellectual leaders are always bright and well-informed, but most supporters seem to give the cause a bad rep... What we need is to replace the aura of childish hedonism with an aura of serious and sober agenda. For this we need spokespeople who are concerned MAINLY with the welfare of the community as opposed to the welfare of stoners.

Bad Timing but the Rand Paul victory is good for the cause

Prop 19 and medical marijuana measures in other states were a victim of bad timing as far as what the election year trends were this year. The Republican redneck vote was inspired to come out to vote against Obama and legalization fell victim to their ignorance. At least we now have an actual U.S. Senator who is in favor of legalization, Rand Paul, even if he has to downplay his views for a little while.

Anyone who thinks that drug use will automatically destroy one's future, remind them that our last three Presidents, Clinton, Bush and Obama, all likely used marijuana and cocaine in the past (only President Obama has courageously admitted drug use directly in his autobiography).

Would President Obama's path to success have been diverted should he have been unfortunate enough to be convicted of a drug offense back when he had been a casual user? It is not fair that millions of other United States citizens are being denied their right to succeed due to drug laws, which are unconstitutional.  

Is Rand Paul for real?

He's no Ron Paul. I seriously doubt that he supports legalization. He comes off as Twilight Zone to too many outside of Kentucky. He's tagged racist because wants to repeal the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He says that Mining Safety laws are un necessary. Now he says that there is no rich or poor in America. He definitely needs to clean up his act. With an ally like him, who needs enemies? 

I'm more enthused than ever

Instead of feeling disappointed about the failure of prop 19 I'm more enthused than ever about the prospects of cannabis be legalized for adult use. Prop 19 wasn't rejected because it sought to legalize cannabis. It was rightly rejected due to it's flaws. We need a more perfect explanation of the evils of prohibition coupled with a more workable proposition to legalize cannabis. We need to piggyback the current system of alcohol & tobacco sales. This will keep the proposition simple & not scare potential voters with fear of the unknown. All adults know how alcohol & tobacco are sold to adults. So, there's nothing scary or unknown about the devil you know, versus the devil you don't. I'm going to be pushing harder than ever for cannabis legalization & we all need to be involved in the discussion of how to present the plan to voters. This will be far more successful than the haphazard tax plan & possible lawsuits Prop 19 would have initiated. Even as flawed as Prop 19 was, it almost made it. Now we know what won't work & we can focus on what will work. Keep the faith people. The end of cannabis prohibition is nearer than ever. Now is the time to form stronger abolition groups in every state in time for 2012. We need a united effort across the nation all at the same time. Prop 19 got the debate started. It's up to us to take the next step & on to restoring our civil liberties. 

Bad News for Prohibitionists

Prohibition reflects all the corruption and hypocrisy of the judicial system.  Every botched drug arrest and every propagandist lie puts the entire assemblage of jurisprudence under a searing spotlight.  Every drug arrest adds another potential activist to the list of legalizers.  The alienation that exists between people and their government due to prohibition will continue to expand and will be felt for decades after the drug war finally ends.

It would have been far better for the prohibitionists and everyone else had the authorities lost the legalization battle in 2010 with the passage of Prop 19.  Delaying the inevitable until 2012 is going to subject the opposition to two more years of ass-stomping ridicule and vilification.  Not that they don’t deserve it, of course.


No Such Thing

@ Alex:  "The proposal put forward in 2012 will be a better written and more complete piece of legislation. Those who support reform but opposed prop 19 will not have any excuses two years from now."

It is impossible, in a democracy, to write a piece of legislation that will please everybody.  Add the complexities of the prohibition issue to the mix, and it becomes even more impossible.  No matter what's in the actual bill, those in opposition will distort the facts and outright lie to get their point across.  Just look at the opposition arguments this time: that it will allow stoned people in the workplace, that it will reduce medical users' rights, that it will not generate tax revenue, that it will turn the industry over to big business.  None of which was true.  And then there are the people who profit from prohibition.  No way you are going to convince them that reducing their profits is a good thing.

To those waiting for the perfect piece of legalization legislation, you're living in the wrong universe.  Can't happen.  Ever.  We have to take what we can get.  IMO, any change in the current law away from prohibition is a step in the right direction.  In-fighting and bickering about the details does not benefit the cause.  Get it legal first, and the rest will work itself out.

They make too much money off

They make too much money off of sick people that is why it did not pass. Alcohol and cigarettes kill hundreds of thousands annually. Each sick person is just sending big pharma to the bank. If you want to regain your senses from years of heavy alcohol abuse follow the trail to the herb. Our founding fathers would be proud.

Pyhrric Victory for the prohibitionists

Keep plugging away. Hope the Proposition 19 victory in the "War on Drugs" is like the "Tet Offensive" in Vietnam, a Pyhrric victory. Win the battle but lose the war. Prohibition is at best, STUPID.


the police will undoubtably step up their arrest quotas and the courts will keep right on handing out felonies like candy at Halloween, thereby ensuring that even more of us who dare to oppose them won't be voting.  Pardon me for raining on your parade, but I think that any meaningful "reform" MUST start by STOPPING those in power from taking away voting privileges.

cnn interview with joycelyn elders

   i just saw he cnn interview with the ex surgeon general. it was highly pro legalization. it was obviously recorded about a month ago, according to the verbage in the text about the election being about a month away.

   did cnn wait until after the election before they posted this for the country to read?

   lets keep the faith, things are certainly going in the right direction.


Yes, taking away people's right to vote is a serious matter

Agreeing with Rita on the importance of this issue: First they create crimes of status, that have nothing to do with behavior actually harming another person, then they take away people's right to vote over this arbitrarily declared 'crime'. Nice little rig job, America. I'm just about positive George Bush would have lost Florida in 2000 without it.

Even taking away people's right to vote for real crimes is troublesome, given the link between growing up in poverty and crime, and the way racial minorities have been historically treated. That's a rig job too, helping to keep poor communities down. Only the most serious crimes, murder for example, justify stripping a citizen of their right to vote. There are plenty of other punishments available. This one harms the effort to reintegrate a person into the community of responsible citizens.

Another person hoodwinked by Big Alcohol's war on marijuana

Big Alcohol has successfully bought off your elected representatives and uses them to focus society's attention on far lesser threats such as marijuana rather than on the mountain of destruciton caused by alcohol to our families and communities. 

Get real, Neeka, if society can accept killer alcohol

why the hell can't it live with far safer cannabis? You do understand that alcohol is a drug, don't you?  And that it makes some people do crazy and sadistic stuff, right? And that you can die of an overdose or chronic abuse of alcohol, right? And you know what alcohol can do to fetuses, right?

 Cannabis related death and serious injury on the other hand are truly rare so why are you choosing cannabis to be worried about?  Why not try being fair to people who prefer weed to booze? 

why prop 19 failed, arizona barely passed, all othes failed

prop 19 failed, because it was TOO RESTRICTIVE, it was “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”, actually making 18-20 yr. olds, be at greater risk of arrest. -it did not really legalize, it ‘corperatised’, it would end small mom-and-pop grows. ($200K for a licence to grow to sell) -it would give away WAY too much, in order to achive very little, (a WHOLE OUNCE, wow) WHILE INSURING PRICES STAY SKY-HIGH. amd even JACK HERER WAS 100% AGAINST IT. summary for prop 19; “legalize” it, BUT, you can only buy it at a very limited number of dispensories, and only big corp.s will be able to jump through all the expensive gov’t. hoops, prohibition prices will remain in effect, and we will TAX IT TO DEATH, then we will just add the charge of ‘tax evasion’ to the black market sales.

I have my own speculation on the terrible MMJ results

Terrible  when compared to the extent of public support for medicinal marijuana. The results in Arizona, while thankfully still a win, Oregon and South Dakota probably need more than one reason to explain. The legalization campaign in CA brought a lot of attention to the MMJ reality in CA, which is that anyone with a little money to pay a MMJ mill doctor can get legal MMJ, and to the issue of recreational cannabis. I think a lot people adamantly opposed to recreational cannabis, and supposedly in favor of MMJ, ,,, many of them flaming hypocrite alcohol users or abusers, felt that the needs of seriously ill patients did not outweigh their need to broadcast their hatred of recreational cannabis users. I really regret that critical needs of patients are being hurt politically by the need to stop treating recreational cannabis users like dogs, but I don't think any kind of apology is in order. All apologies should come from those so coldhearted that they won't allow their fellow citizens to take their medicine. If the legislatures and governors would do the right, science based thing, also the popular thing, there wouldn't be any need for referendums. Special interests are suppressing the will of the people on medicinal cannabis

my preview copy of last post had 3 ,,,'s magically appear

internet glitches... not sure if you know about this one, or if it's a one time thing...   regards

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