Tag: calfornia

Mellow, Harshed

by on May.20, 2010, under Politics

I don’t think this November’s California Marijuana Legalization Initiative will pass. According to Joe Mathews at Planet Zero, it’s tied in the polls (a surprise to me — another poll, touted by advocates, touted upper-50s support) and it’s losing with women, seniors and Latinos. The election is five and a half months away, however, and neither the Yes nor the No campaign has taken off in earnest.

The talking points in favor of legalization are simple: regulate and tax it like alcohol and reap more than $1 billion of revenue that can patch the holes in our budget. These are terrible talking points, and I think it’s because of this mostly bloodless approach to the issue that the initiative will fail.

The No position has an advantage in every election; people are reflexively suspicious of initiatives. (This seems not to be the case regarding initiatives promising stiffer criminal penalties.) The No campaign against marijuana legalization will be mostly fought by parents’ groups and police groups, who will go back to the Reefer Madness well, calling marijuana addictive and predicting horrible social consequences for children if they can access the devil weed as easily as they can find someone to buy them cigarettes (though I’ve been told by under-18s that it’s easier to buy pot from the old dope peddler than it is cigarettes from terrified store clerks). It will be an emotional campaign, and it will depend less on the strength of its arguments as much as it will on the ambivalence of the electorate. Consider what strikes me as one of the more effective lines of attack:

“We are quite concerned that by legalizing marijuana, it will definitely lower the perception of risk, and we will see youth use go through the roof,” said Aimee Hendle, a spokeswoman for Californians for Drug Free Youth.

I don’t think the perception of risk attached to marijuana is all that great, and I think youth use will depend mainly on price, which will depend mainly on tax rates. A voter is likely to have tried marijuana (102 million Americans over the age of 12 have), but what the Yes campaign hasn’t quite gotten its head around is that plenty of them didn’t like it, maintain a comfortable hypocrisy around their ability to procure it without penalty, and would like their children to use less of it than they did.

I also think there’s some wishful thinking among advocates that the experiment with medical marijuana and quasi-legalization has eased Californians’ fears, or that they would prefer outright legalization to the wink-and-nod around the medical marijuana regime. Again, this is a place where since no one can craft a forceful, emotional argument that legalization is superior to casual users free-riding on the suffering of actual patients, the emotional brutalism of the No campaign is likely to gain more traction.

I’ll certainly vote in favor of legalization, and I encourage our vast and influential readership to do so as well. (Hey there!) But I suspect that it will poll between tied and slightly in favor for most of the lead-up and will finally lose by a small margin. I would love to be proven wrong.

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