What they’re saying about Prop. 19

Most news outlets have called Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure, a failure tonight; with 18.7 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, it has only 43 percent of the vote.

“We are waiting for those late voters, we aren’t ready to call it a night yet,” Yes on 19 spokeswoman Dale Jones said about half an hour ago.

But with things looking grim, she said, the measure’s supporters look forward to working with the coalition they built as well as the measure’s opponents to figure out the next step – another measure in 2012, almost certainly, but a turn to the Legislature even sooner than that.

Lawmakers “have definitely got the message and are ready to move the ball forward, too,” she said. “California is ready to move away from a failed policy.”

That does indeed seem to be the talking point for the Yes on 19 crowd. From co-proponent Richard Lee’s statement:

“Over the course of the last year, it has become clear that the legalization of marijuana is no longer a question of if but a question of when. Because of this campaign, millions now understand it’s time to develop an exit strategy for the failed war on marijuana. Across the state our opponents, including many newspaper editorial boards that failed to properly understand Prop. 19, repeatedly stated that their quibbles were not with legalization in general. When we come back with a new initiative in 2012, there will be a seat at the table for all of these new stakeholders. And we will be coming back, stronger than ever.”

And, from Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann:

California’s Proposition 19 may not have won a majority of votes yesterday, but it already represents an extraordinary victory for the broader movement to legalize marijuana. Its mere presence on the ballot, combined with a well run campaign, transformed public dialogue about marijuana and marijuana policy.

Prop. 19 both elevated and legitimized public discourse about marijuana and marijuana policy. The media coverage, around the country and internationally, has been exceptional, both in quantity and quality. The campaign forged an unprecedented coalition of drug policy reformers, mainstream civil rights groups, organized labor, and a large contingent of outspoken retired law enforcement figures.

There’s now solid and increasing evidence that marijuana legalization is an issue that young people care about a lot – and that putting it on the ballot increases the chances that they’ll actually vote. Both major parties have no choice but to pay attention, especially when the political allegiances of young voters are very much up for grabs.

For those of us engaged in long term strategizing on marijuana law reform, the plan remains the same: to put the issue to voters in states where polls show majority support for legalizing marijuana, and to introduce similar bills in state legislatures. It’s too soon to say whether the issue will be back on the ballot in California in 2012, but at the very least we know that a bill to tax and regulate marijuana will be considered by the state legislature, just as one was earlier this year.

But Roger Salazar, spokesman for the No on 19 campaign, said a failure is a failure.

“The voters showed us tonight that they’re more interested in the details, and the details of this thing showed it wasn’t going to do the things they said it was going to do,” he said.

As for working with the Yes on 19 camp to develop a better measure for 2012, Salazar said “it didn’t seem to be a measure that had a high interest level with voters – it had a high level of interest with activists, a small number of people.”

“The burden is on the activists to prove that this is something that Californians not only are ready for, but actually are even interested in, and I think they have a long way to go given what happened tonight.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.