Why Proposition 19 Failed to Pass


  1. Attorney General Eric Holder publicly threatened to cut off federal funding to California and vigorously enforce federal law if voters passed the proposal. This frightened high ranking California politicians to go on record to oppose the idea and urge citizens to vote no.
  2. Many believed proposition 19 was poorly written. Medical marijuana growers and dispensaries owners worried that some local governments would ban marijuana possession. In other cases corporations would set up large scale marijuana production and distribution systems and put them out of business. These people voted no.
  3. Police organizations declared that more adults would smoke if it were legal. This would increase the number of intoxicated drivers on the road and lead to more accidents. Picture pothead parents exposing their children to marijuana or a stoned motorist rear-ending a school bus full of children. Police and parents voted no.
  4. The increased potency of todayís pot could lead to more emergency room visits. The medical issues arising from a lifetime of chronic abuse could add an additional burden to our health care system. HMOís and hospital administrators voted no.
  5. The drug testing companies, prison industry, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies would have to lay off workers if prop 19 passed. The people who worked these jobs voted no.
  6. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill two weeks before the election that reduced first time possession of one ounce of marijuana by adults (not minors) from a misdemeanor to an infraction (a $100 fine). Many young pot smokers felt safe with this new status and didnít bother registering or voting to make their drug of choice legal.
  7. Prop 19 surprised many voters with its offer of tax revenues and the scaling down of the unaffordable drug war. The idea of returning control of pot to local jurisdictions and away from drug gangs sounded like a good idea. As the debate between the legalizers and the prohibitionists began to heat up, the polls began to see-saw back and forth. People could not make up their minds if this radical proposal was a solution or the beginning of a catastrophe. When the time came to vote many felt that the shift was happening too fast and no one could predict with any certainty what the consequences would be. Would a yes vote lead to chaos? Would drug addiction and crime escalate? Would lax marijuana laws lead to harder drugs?Would we become a nation of druggies instead of achievers?


What Would Have Happened If Prop 19 Had Passed?


Everything listed above could have happened but the benefit would be a reduction in the level of violence. The fascination with a plant that is forbidden by governments and worshipped by teenagers would diminish if anyone over 21 could grow a few plants for personal use. Just as bootlegging violence disappeared when alcohol was re-legalized so will the violence over marijuana fade away. Today adults can legally brew beer or ferment grape juice or apple juice in the privacy of their own home. By the same token adults should be allowed to grow a few marijuana plants for personal use without the fear of a home invasion by law enforcement.

The amount of usage will initially increase once the federal government decides to stop interfering with state and local laws, but once the novelty wears off it will become as unexciting as alcohol and cigarettes. The merely curious will try it once or twice while others will smoke moderately or heavily for whatever reason at various times in their lives. The most responsible members of our society will simply quit using pot if it threatens job security or domestic tranquility.

Drug prohibition is a noble idea based on moral, medical and religious grounds but threatens the constitutional guarantees of privacy and freedom in the serious business of making choices about oneís own lifestyle. Lawmakers like to believe the public is not qualified to make these choices and to leave it up to the authorities to decide what is good and bad. What they fail to explain is that prohibition transfers control from a regulated, taxed market to an unregulated untaxed market run by gangsters. The desire for pleasure, altered states, and relief from pain and boredom remains constant regardless of how many resolutions Congress passes. After the self-congratulations die down, the proceeds from taxing drug sales disappears and the escalating violence and cost of enforcing a bad policy begins.

After the failed Alaskan experiment with legalization, marijuana will remain an ongoing argument with both sides taking turns tightening and loosening controls.


James Wiley

May 2011