Prop. 19 in California: legalized marijuana goes up in smoke

Prop. 19 in California would have legalized recreational marijuana. But voters, breaking along generational lines, rejected Prop. 19, which critics feared would exacerbate drug abuse.

By , Staff writer

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    Daniel Costa, a volunteer with the campaign to legalize marijuana, rallies last minute voters to support Prop. 19 shortly before polls closed on Tuesday in Oakland, Calif. The proposal, which would have let adults possess up to an ounce of pot, consume it in private places as long as no children were present, and grow it in small private plots, was defeated.
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California’s Proposition 19 – which would legalize the personal growth, use, and distribution of marijuana – appears to have gone up in smoke. Based on exit polls and early ballot counts, Prop. 19 has been defeated.

The controversial measure not only lost, but it lost by a wide margin across most of the state. The exception was San Francisco (famous for the 60s-era hippie hangout in Haight-Ashbury), where it won by a very slim margin, according to a poll conducted by Edison Research for the National Voter Pool, a consortium of the major television news networks and the Associated Press, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.

The outcome of the vote was clearly generational, according to the poll. Older voters were overwhelmingly against it, voters under age 30 for it. Since younger Americans (an important part of the base that voted Barack Obama into the presidency) are less likely to vote in off-year elections, it was always going to be a long shot for the measure.

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There was a partisan tinge to the outcome as well. Democrats were more likely to approve Prop. 19, Republicans and independents to reject it.

Many Californians, including their elected and law enforcement officials, had become concerned about the hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state. The uses for such legal pot had been broadly defined, and it became a booming industry.

Critics worried that opening up the state to recreational production and distribution of the substance would exacerbate drug abuse. Proponents argued that legalizing marijuana’s recreational use would simply be the equivalent of doing away with the unsuccessful prohibition of alcohol in the United States from 1920-1933. And they said taxing marijuana could have added $1.4 billion to the coffers of a state in the throes of a financial crisis.

Prop. 19 would have allowed Californians 21 and older to grow up to 25 square feet of cannabis plants, and to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The measure also would have authorized local governments to regulate commercial cannabis cultivation, as well as the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.

But federal officials said they were very ready to prosecute violators of federal drug laws, including what Prop. 19 would have allowed.

US Attorney General Eric Holder warned that the Obama administration would “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws against people who grow, sell, or distribute marijuana for recreational use.

In neighboring Oregon, voters rejected a measure that would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries.

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