Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

November 2, 2010
California voters reject Proposition 19 marijuana initiative

California, which 14 years ago became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, has decided it isn't going to sanction pot use for recreation.

Election Results

By a wide margin, voters defeated Proposition 19. With one-fifth of the vote counted, it is losing by 57 to 43 percent.

A few minutes ago, Proposition 19 proponent Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur who spent $1.5 million to back the measure, conceded defeat. But he said he will push for another marijuana vote in 2012.

"The fact that millions of Californians voted to legalize marijuana is a tremendous victory," Lee said. "...Prop. 19 has changed the terms of the debate. And that was a major strategic goal...Because of this campaign, millions now understand it's time to develop an exit strategy for the failed war on marijuana."

The pot initiative - which also would have made California the first state to legalize marijuana beyond medical use - drew international attention.

It was cheered on by marijuana advocates, drug war critics and even the California branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was condemned by the California Chamber of Commerce and most state police organizations.

Most recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws in California if voters passed the initiative.

Tonight, Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Public Safety First, the No on 19 campaign committee, said Holder's remarks turned the tide against the initiative.

"When the U.S. attorney general talked about the conflict with federal law, that gave people pause," Salazar said. "And I think people really started to take a look at whether it did what it promised. It wouldn't stop drug cartels. And it wouldn't help law enforcement do their job better.

"The proponents of Proposition 19 tried to sell voters on a concept, thinking they would ignore the details."

Proposition 19 would have allowed Californians over 21 to legally possess an ounce of pot and to cultivate small amounts of marijuana at home. It also would have enabled cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

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