I heard plenty of commentators pass off the defeat of Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure on the November 2010 ballot, with a condescending, “Even California isn’t that crazy.” You would think these professional pundits would know by now that it is never a good call to underestimate the craziness of California.
With the final votes yet to be tallied, Meg got 4,027,661 Californians to vote for her while nearly half a million more, 4,502,657, voted to legalize pot. You could almost double the population of North Dakota with the difference between the two tallies. The Whitman campaign spent $163 million on her failed effort ($141 million of her own money and a mere $22 million in Meg-free campaign contributions), so each vote she collected cost her $40.47. The much-derided Prop 19 supporters, in contrast, spent $4 million on their campaign, or $1.13 per vote.
More significant, though, is what running a social-reform proposition in California means to the rest of the nation, even if the proposition loses. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, put it this way, “California’s Proposition 19 may not have won a majority of voters yesterday, but it already represents an extraordinary victory for the broader movement to legalize marijuana. Its mere presence on the ballot … elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy.”
Students for Sensible Drug Policy, another pro-legalization group, added, “One of the greatest hidden victories of the Prop 19 campaign was that it trained the emerging generation of marijuana reformers on how to run a legalization campaign, and left virtually all of them wanting to win on this issue in 2012.”
Colorado is a likely target, underscoring California’s continuing ability to influence American society, even if the state’s voters continue to vote as strangely as they did in 2010.