A few short months ago, California's Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, seemed likely to fade away in a puff of smoke. After more than three decades on the front lines of the disastrous "war on drugs," I feared this best-hope-to-date chapter in the battle for sane drug laws was a lost cause. But something has changed in the public's consciousness, and in its resolve.
What, apart from a smart, well-run campaign, explains this big swing in momentum?
For one thing, more and more police officers have decided that the 40-year drug war is a farce and a failure. These cops have been eyewitnesses to the ruinous effects of drug arrests on the lives of the people they've been hired to protect and serve, and they're finally speaking out. Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, in particular, have been reaching out to service clubs, civic groups, and fellow cops throughout the state. They've been especially persuasive in countering the escalating fear-mongering misrepresentations of anti-19 forces.
Parents, including multiplying ranks of formerly resistant single moms, fed up with violence in their neighborhoods, with marijuana's ready availability in schools, and with the heartbreaking realities of their teenage children's criminal records, are at last speaking out against the absurdity of the state's marijuana laws. (And they won't be dissuaded from voting for Proposition 19 simply because of their governor's cynical, last-minute but long-overdue gesture in reducing penalties in simple pot possession cases.)
Surprising numbers of conservative Californians have joined forces with civil libertarians to create a formidable bloc of states' rights advocates opposed to indefensible government intrusion into our everyday lives.
Human and civil rights advocates, such as the NAACP, have taken official positions in opposition to the deep-seated racism reflected in drug law enforcement, and in support of Proposition 19.
And, of course, Golden State voters are increasingly motivated by reliable estimates that California, buried under a mountain of debt and forced to slash vital services, stands to capture up to $1.4 billion in new revenues, along with substantial savings in law enforcement and other criminal justice costs.
But perhaps the biggest boost to the pro-19 campaign may be found in the vast army of young adults working for its passage. A natural anti-prohibition demographic, young Californians not only oppose their state's marijuana laws they are investing substantial time and energy to the cause of replacing them. They've organized, mobilized, gone door to door, rallied their friends.
Cynics take note. These young people will show up at the polls. And, in all likelihood, they will cast the decisive votes that will restore adult possession of marijuana as a basic freedom.