Prop 19 ran into a buzz saw that derailed California's nascent effort to tax and regulate marijuana. Here are the main reasons why it lost:
The Loyal Opposition
When Prop 19 was launched at the NORML Conference in San Francisco last October, proponents knew that police organizations, the alcohol industry and major media outlets would not be on their side. Most of the No on 19 funding (about $270,000) came from this loyal opposition.
The White House
Just two weeks before the vote, Attorney General Eric Holder warned that if Prop 19 passed he would "vigorously enforce" federal law which prohibits marijuana and trumps state law. While this might be viewed as political grandstanding by the slumping Obama Administration, it's unclear if Holder really meant it.
California Further Decriminalizes Marijuana
On Oct. 1, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill (SB 1449) that softened California's decim law by reducing a misdemeanor for marijuana possession to a summons, which is what it should have been all along. Though proponents now claim SB 1449 as a small victory en route to Prop 19's defeat, it was surely a stunt by the outgoing governor, who'd never signed any pro-pot legislation, to convince voters that the law didn't need further amending.
Chief Prop 19 proponent Richard Lee seeded the campaign with $1.4 million. It took until the last month for major funders (George Soros, Peter Lewis, Sean Parker, Philip Harvey) to that match that sum. What took so long? Many stayed away, believing that Prop 19 was a loser, but then at the last minute decided to write checks. However, it was too late to make much of a difference. Apparently, voters had already made up their minds.
The most vexing reason for Prop 19's failure was lack of support within the marijuana community. From the start, many did not share Lee's optimism and outlook that now was the right time for the measure, rather than waiting until 2012, a Presidential election year that guarantees more voters, especially younger ones. Support continued to erode, with naysayers chipping away at Prop 19's wording (local control, the 5x5 personal grow space, increased penalties for adults sharing with minors). The handful of No on 19 stoners had a big impact, spreading their propaganda (such as the corporate takeover of the marijuana industry) via the Internet and at trade shows like HempCon and INTCHE. Vested interests, such as Northern California growers and medical-dispensary owners, joined the internal opposition. For them, the system is currently working, so why change it? Without 100% support from California's marijuana smokers and cultivators, Prop 19 didn't stand a chance.