The May edition of ‘Addiction’ contains a ‘For Debate’ article offering possible policies for legalizing Cannabis sativa, marijuana.1 The piece was published online in October 2011 but events on 20th April, or that should be non-events, have rendered it out of date already.
In a section on the proposals but forward in 2010 under Proposition 19, the authors state ‘Although Proposition 19 was defeated, the support was so strong that a redesigned initiative is likely to be on the 2012 ballot in California, and possibly other states.’ That will not be the case.
Is legalisation of Cannabis sativa, marijuana
also wilting away?
The deadline for submitting items to be put to the electorate in California this November passed on 20th April and no proposals for changes in marijuana law were submitted. It appears that there may be several reasons for this.
Money, as with everything in American politics, is a key factor. For a proposition to get onto the ballot it has to be supported by 500,000 registered voters. Most organisations trying to get a vote on something will seek to have 700,000 signatures before the deadline to allow for any that are invalidated as illegible or not from a registered voter. It is estimated that just getting those signatures involves an administration cost of up to $2m and then, of course, there are further costs leading up to the vote.
In 2010, Richard Lee, founder of the Oaksterdam University, spent his life savings, said to be $1.5m to get Proposition 19 onto the ballot. He made it clear after the close-run but unsuccessful campaign that he would not be leading any 2012 effort.
No-one seems to have been able to fill his shoes either in providing funding or in galvanising fund-raising.
It may also be that those willing to invest in a campaign believe the next opportunity, 2014, offers more hope of success. Assuming Barack Obama is re-elected in November, many believe he will use the opportunity afforded to all second-term US Presidents to do what he believes rather than what he believes will win votes. I’m not wholly convinced by the argument that a second-term president, who will never fight another election of any sort, can act much more freely. He still has to consider his party’s needs.
However, there is an expectation that, in his final four years in public office, Obama will do what he is understood to believe in and put an end to awful cost of cannabis prohibition both in terms of federal and state spending and its effects on so many lives. That expectation seems to have been a factor in deciding that this was not the year to press forward. It may even be that reformers felt that might provoke a backlash that could lead to a Republican presidency.
Then there is the fragmentation of the reform movement. There is, at this time, no single agreed goal of marijuana reform. Some groups simply want ‘medical marijuana’ to be freely available, others want personal possession to be decriminalised and still others wish to see some form of full legalisation where commercial growing of pot would be permitted. This seems to have acted to prevent any single clear message coming forward.
Finally, there is the role of the federal government. In the run-up to the November 2010 ballot on Proposition 19, ‘the Attorney General, Eric Holder, warned that if the measure passed, his Justice Department would "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws’2. Some people believe that statement weakened support for Proposition 19 as people felt it was a waste of time if the federal government wouldn’t accept it.
I mentioned Richard Lee and Oaksterdam, above. Even though Lee was never going to be a leading light in any 2012 campaign the raid on his premises and home 3rd april by a combined force from a number of federal agencies pretty much took him out of the fight.
I said in that earlier blog entry that it appeared the federal government was attempting to interfere in state matters. It now appears that the interference has, for the time being, been successful.
That leaves the question of whether it is a good or bad thing that there will be no vote in California in November. The authors of the Addiction piece point out that California law on the proposition system is very restrictive and any proposition approved by the electorate has to enacted as written and is very difficult to subsequently amend. With so many unknowns about how a post-prohibition world will work they are likely to be unforeseen consequences. It will be important for the authorities to be able to respond quickly to such consequences so going down the proposition route may not be the best way in the long-term.
1.Design considerations for legalizing
cannabis: lessons inspired by analysis of California's
Proposition 19 Addiction Volume 107, Issue 5, pages 865–871, May
2.Marijuana Legalization Efforts Fail in California, Thanks to Money and The Feds SFWeekly 24th April 2012