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Proposition 19 — is California Going to Pot?

According to the most recent polling information, California State Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana possession, is likely to go down to defeat. The nonpartisan Field Poll results for October 31st show only 42% of likely voters support Proposition 19, while 49% oppose it.

This is a reversal from polling in September which showed the initiative leading 49-to-42%.

Currently, possession of a small amount of marijuana, if prosecuted at all, is dealt with like a traffic fine. And marijuana is legal for medicinal uses. So why the need for the initiative? Some support legalization to end hypocrisy and double standards (why is possession of pot criminalized at all while alcohol is not, they’ll say), while others believe the state is missing out on the potential revenue that taxation would afford.

Proposition 19 would not just legalize pot, but would also allow local governments to regulate and tax the sale of marijuana in the State.

Candidates for statewide election on both sides of the aisle have indicated their opposition to the proposition as have the police chiefs of every county save San Francisco. Some oppose the initiative because they don’t want to appear soft on drugs or on crime. Others, such as the L.A. Times, think the law would create an unnecessary additional level of governmental bureaucracy by requiring each of the 536 separate cities and counties in the State to impose their own rules.

California weed

Some pollsters think the gap may be more narrow, believing that some polled may be unwilling to admit their support for legalized drugs to phone or in-person questioners. If this is true, then the makeup of the voters tomorrow will be crucial in determining whether the initiative can overcome its seeming deficit . This is especially true during this off-year election where most are predicting a pro-Republican (or, at least, anti-incumbent) turnout.

Despite the last minute influx of money by billionaire George Soros, some $1 million to support the initiative, those most likely to vote tomorrow are not likely to be swayed by last-minute ads to support legalization.

If Republicans, motivated to send an anti-Obama message to Washington, come out in droves, it is likely that Prop. 19 will go down to defeat. Latest polling shows Democrats support Prop 19 by a slim majority (51%), while Republicans oppose it 65% to 25%. Voters under 40 years old (who lean Democrat) support the initiative 54% to 38%, while voters 65 or older (more likely Republican) are against it, 63% to 29%.

This may not be the year that pot becomes legalized in California, but proponents will surely try again. Perhaps a rewrite that better establishes regulatory policies would overcome some of the more mainstream opposition. But it is surprising that a State that looks to be sending one of the most Liberal Senators back to Washington is too conservative to support legalizing marijuana.