Ballot prop to legalize pot gets everyone’s attention

If you want voters to pay attention to propositions, try putting one on the ballot to legalize pot. That’s one message from this fall’s elections in California.

The most widely-known proposition on the state’s ballot this year is the one that would legalize, regulate and tax the recreational use of marijuana. A mid-September survey by the independent, non-partisan Field Poll found Prop. 19 ahead by 49 to 42 percent among likely voters it surveyed – a gain over a July survey that found the measure lagging by 4 percentage points.

The Field Poll also found some 84 percent of likely voters knew about Prop. 19, compared to less than 40 percent who knew about measures to suspend the state’s greenhouse gas law or scrap the two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget.

Prop. 19 would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use by adults 21 and older. It would let local governments decide about commercial activities related to the drug, including growing, processing, distributing, transporting and retail sale. Local governments could also tax marijuana-related activities. The state could also regulate production on a statewide basis.

No surprise, either, that the measure is controversial. Like current medical marijuana legislation, Prop. 19 runs counter to the federal ban on all pot use. California okayed medical pot use in 1996 and 13 other states and the District of Columbia also allow it . The Justice Department under President Obama has said it will not prosecute medical pot use that’s consistent with state law.

Among the measure’s backers is Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who told a press conference earlier this month that “prohibition” is “an outdated and costly approach” that hasn’t protected society or furthered law and order.

On the other side, Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown recently told KTTV, the Fox station in Los Angeles, “We got to compete with China, and if everybody’s stoned, how the hell are we going to make it?”

It is also no surprise that young voters are among Prop. 19’s strongest supporters, with 59 percent of voters under 40 planning to vote Yes. This has led some observers to see the measure as an antidote to the widely perceived “enthusiasm gap.”

Less well known among voters, but potentially devastating to California’s future, is Prop. 23 to suspend landmark anti-pollution measure AB 32 until the state’s unemployment has been 5.5 percent or less for a whole year. Opponents say Prop. 23 threatens California’s chances for green jobs, government and private investment in clean technology, and a sustainable economy.

The Field Poll found No on 23 prevailing by 45 to 34 percent overall, with voters in most categories opposed. But with the current focus on environmental issues, the Field Poll’s finding that just 37 percent of likely voters knew of the measure was a surprise.

With the state’s budget now nearly three months overdue and still in legislative stalemate, it also seems surprising that over three-fifths of likely voters hadn’t heard of Prop. 25, to pass a budget by a simple legislative majority while retaining the two-thirds required to raise taxes. Though Prop. 25 is ahead among likely voters, 46 to 30 percent, its lead has shrunk from an overwhelming three-to-one margin in July. Supporters say Prop. 25 would curb the Republican legislative minority’s ability to hold the budget hostage for weeks or months, as it has done in most recent years.

As is often the case in California, Prop. 25 has an opposite number, Prop. 26, which would raise the current simple legislative majority needed to pass many fees to a two-thirds supermajority. Opponents say that would make it nearly impossible to collect fees from industries to mitigate pollution.

Another pair of opposites pits Props. 20 and 27 against each other.

Prop. 20 would give a Citizens’ Redistricting Committee the job of redistricting California’s U.S. House of Representatives seats. A 2008 ballot measure made the Citizens’ Redistricting Committee responsible to redistrict state legislative districts. The body hasn’t started that work yet. Opponents charge putting the unelected 14-member commission in charge of redistricting is far less democratic than leaving it in the hands of an elected legislature. They are backing Prop. 27 to return all responsibility for redistricting to the state legislature.



Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.