Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure awaiting voters in November, already has united some strange bedfellows, split some traditional allies and exposed some not-so-ulterior motives -- and it's only midsummer.
The myriad ways of framing the matter -- an issue of civil or constitutional rights? a tax revenue windfall? a scourge upon California's workplaces and highways? a looming war with Washington, D.C.? -- ensure Proposition 19 will remain among 2010's hottest political topics, despite poll numbers showing it's unlikely to pass and many pundits' belief that it's actually among the least important measures to be decided in November. The ballot is crowded with measures targeting voter redistricting and the state's budget crisis as well as the potential repeal of a landmark global-warming law.
Generally, law enforcement and -- no surprise -- anti-drug groups are opposing it, as is big business. Beyond that, it's shaping up as a battle of niches, as many bigger, broader-based entities can't seem to get their various constituencies on the same page.
For example, among politicians it's being endorsed mostly by those for whom it seems to be "safe" to do so. Yet statewide officials and candidates aren't likely to embrace the measure, as statewide polls show the voters they aim to please offer only middling support for the measure at best.
Even the parties are split. The California Democratic Party chose to stay neutral on Prop. 19 even as the
California Young Democrats and a few local party entities endorsed it; and while many California Republicans have dismissed the measure as a liberal sop, the Republican Liberty Caucus of California endorsed it as a matter of personal freedom.
The measure would allow anyone 21 or older to possess up to an ounce of pot for personal use and would legalize personal grows of up to 25 square feet. Use would be allowed only in nonpublic spaces or in licensed public establishments; local governments could choose to regulate and tax sales.
Here's a partial list of who's for it, who's against it, and who's trying to stay out of the fray:
Endorsing: Oakland city councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan, Jean Quan, Pat Kernighan, Larry Reid and Nancy Nadel and Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata -- Five of the council's eight members (including mayoral candidates Kaplan and Quan) plus Perata believe legalization could be a tax revenue windfall for the cash-strapped city; the council voted July 20 to authorize up to four industrial-scale marijuana farming operations supplying medical dispensaries for now, but ahead of the curve if Prop. 19 passes. California Young Democrats -- This official arm of the state Democratic Party represents voters 18 to 35, and "from the research that we've found, Prop. 19 is something they fully support," CYD Communications Director Mike Kim said. CYD's website says it's "committed to creating a bloc of young voters who will elect Democrats for an entire generation." Kim said "that wasn't the fundamental reason as to why we voted 'yes' but we are very much aware this is an issue that's going to bring out a lot of young voters to the ballots" hopefully to support the entire Democratic slate and agenda. Republican Liberty Caucus of California -- The Ron Paul-following "Constitutional Republicans" say Prop. 19 is a proper limit on federal authority, leaving individuals to choose what they consume, but it opposes taxing marijuana cultivation and sales just as staunchly as it opposes all other taxation. California State Conference of the NAACP -- President Alice Huffman says the measure is a means of ending the "War on Drugs" that it says has disproportionately targeted and victimized young men of color for decades; at least one black religious group immediately called for Huffman's resignation, saying she's condoning the kind of drug use that has ravaged black communities. The American Civil Liberties Union's California affiliates -- Enforcement of marijuana prohibition consumes a great deal of California's law enforcement and court system resources and has a disproportionate impact on communities of color, say the state's three ACLU affiliates, with 96,000 members combined. United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council -- Representing 200,000 union members in Western states, including some 26,000 in California, the union sees this as an enhancement of the medical marijuana law that would create taxable revenue and jobs (union jobs, of course) in agriculture, health care, retail and possibly textiles while depriving drug traffickers of their income. Jeffrey Miron, senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies at the Harvard University Department of Economics -- The noted libertarian says legalization will reduce crime, reduce law enforcement costs, raise tax revenues and ensure quality control. "Just as the harms of alcohol prohibition were worse than the harms of alcohol itself, the adverse effects of marijuana prohibition are worse than the unwanted consequences of marijuana use," he wrote.
Opposed: Major-party nominees for governor and state attorney general -- Democratic gubernatorial nominee Jerry Brown and Republican gubernatorial nominee Meg Whitman won't touch this one with the proverbial 10-foot pole: Both have come out against Prop. 19. The nominees for state attorney general -- San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris, a Democrat, and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, a Republican -- co-authored a ballot argument rebuttal for the official state voters guide saying the measure compromises driving safety and threatens workplace safety and federal contracts. Politically, polls show pot legalization is a tough sell for statewide candidates, and nobody running to be the state's chief executive or "top cop" wants to look "soft on crime." U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. -- Arguably one of the state's most influential Democrats, the lawmaker called this measure "a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe," leading to increased drug use, conflict with federal law and loss of federal funding. Law enforcement groups including the California Narcotics Officers Association, California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association and the California District Attorneys Association and others. They say Prop. 19 is a threat to public health and safety and is likely to lead to more drug-related crime; critics say they're trying to protect a failed "War on Drugs" model as well as their jobs. Mothers Against Drunk Driving -- The group worries legalization will result in more impaired driving and thus more injuries and fatalities. Dennis Peron -- A guiding force behind California's medical marijuana law who says he was fired by Prop. 19 co-author Richard Lee's Oaksterdam University because of his opposition to the measure, Peron, of San Francisco, feels the measure is too tough on marijuana. Limiting people to an ounce or 25 square feet of growing space is like limiting wine collectors to one bottle; taxation would be disproportionate and unfair; and prison terms for teens who toke or parents who smoke in front of their kids are excessive, he says. California Chamber of Commerce -- The state's biggest business group says legalization would "drive up costs and significantly undermine the ability of employers to protect the safety of all employees in the workplace" because employers, including the state, would have to prove a worker testing positive for marijuana is actually impaired from performing a job before disciplining or firing him or her. The chamber also says employers could lose public contracts and grants because they could no longer effectively enforce drug-free workplace requirements outlined by the federal government. California League of Cities -- President Robin Lowe, a Hemet city councilwoman, said the League's board recognizes "that the public safety risks far outweigh the potential for local revenue gain."
Neutral: California Democratic Party -- Despite support for endorsement from Chairman John Burton and liberals mobilized by the online progressive Courage Campaign, the party's executive board chose July 18 to remain neutral, seemingly unwilling to cross anti-marijuana voters outside the state's Democratic urban strongholds -- and perhaps unwilling to let Republicans continue saying Democrats need drugs to get voters to the polls. California Labor Federation -- Unions touting the job growth and tax revenue benefits were canceled out at the federation's convention by others worried about public safety, implementation and federal legal issues. An endorsement would have meant all the federation's affiliated unions would be tapped to support the measure via direct mail, phone banks, precinct walks and member-to-member outreach, and a vote to oppose would have blocked unions that like the measure from acting to support it. Neutrality lets each union decide whether and how to get involved, without compromising labor's unity on other measures and candidates.