Proponents of Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational use and possession of small amounts of marijuana, have vowed they will get pot back on the ballot in 2012.
"We have a debate that was just heard around the world and the conversation has only begun," Dale Jones, a spokeswoman for Prop 19, said at a Wednesday news conference. "There's a seat at the table for 2012," she added. "This is not a matter of if, but when, and our leaders are already working on how to move this issue forward."
Although the measure went down to defeat on Election Day, Richard Lee, a medical marijuana entrepreneur and the author of Prop 19, noted that the effort "got more votes than Meg Whitman."
Legalizing cannabis garnered around 46 percent of the vote -- or 3,424,145 votes -- while Whitman walked away with just 3,088,070 votes. Notably, the former eBay chief executive spent $142 million in her effort to become California's next governor, while proponents of Yes on 19 had only a few million dollars at their disposal.
Steve Downing, a former deputy chief in the Los Angeles Police Department, said this year's efforts were just the first steps in a larger push for legalization, and that putting the measure on the ballot this year helped legitimize public discourse on the issue. "It became respectable and normal to discuss legalization," he said. "That conversation will continue."
Prop 19 would have made it legal for adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use, and also allowed for commercial pot cultivation and the sale of marijuana at licensed establishments. Advocates note this would have injected billions of dollars into the state's beleaguered economy.
Critics have argued that allowing local governments to adopt their own policies would create a confusing patchwork of laws. That point was underscored last month when Attorney General Eric Holder vowed the Department of Justice would "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws regardless of the voters' verdict on Prop 19.
Supporters of legalization have long said that 2012 would be a good year to put pot on the ballot in California, as presidential elections drive much broader voter turnout. In 2010, turnout was especially low for the young, more liberal voters expected to support marijuana legalization.
But Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, who serves as a senior fellow at Cato Institute, argued the campaign needs to reframe its argument to succeed. Miron suggested an emphasis on freedom and personal responsibility, telling All 24 News that "government should not interfere in the private decision to consume marijuana."
Jones argued that it was Attorney General Holder's message coupled with the scare tactics used by the opposition to California's marijuana legalization that led to Prop 19's defeat.
"Frankly the scare tactics at the last minute worked," said Jones. "We have to continue our education campaigns."
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