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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Marijuana Still Isn't Legal in California, and You Have Democrats to Blame for That

Posted By on Tue, Nov 11, 2014 at 3:29 PM

click to enlarge Asses. - DEMOCRATIC PARTY
  • Democratic Party
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It's been a good week for weed. Oregon and Alaska legalized on Election Day, as did Washington, D.C., and on Sunday, news came that New York City police officers will at long last stop hauling people to jail for simple possession of cannabis (though a burning joint in Bill de Blasio's town can still earn you a free ride to jail).

And in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle, the paper devoted front-page space to a story on how the "momentum" to legalize marijuana in California is "growing." In translation: Legalization might become a reality if there are enough billionaires out there who are willing to pay for a ballot initiative. 

Lost in the good news is the reason why marijuana isn't legal in California right now. The state had the chance four years ago, and with two months before the Nov. 2010 election, legalization measure Prop. 19 looked like it was going to win.

But then something changed that course: Democrats, the Washington Post noted yesterday.

Although most Republicans aren't exactly pro-marijuana either (with some major exceptions, mostly from lawmakers who would otherwise be on liberals' lists of lunatics), mainstream Democrats have long been legalization's biggest foes here. In California, Democrats call most the shots, and they have to be friendly to big business and law enforcement — two groups that usually lean conservative.

It's become clear that it will be up to voters to legalize marijuana. Gov. Jerry Brown is now a law-and-order guy, and California's Attorney General Kamala Harris isn't going to be shoving legalization down law enforcement's throats.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom did an about-face and became a notable weed supporter only after Colorado and Washington legalized pot in 2012. That of course was after he was one of the major Democrats to say that the 2010 legalization effort (Prop. 19) was a bad idea.

As the Post points out, it wasn't state elected officials who thwarted California's chance to be the first legal marijuana state. That came from on high.

Registered Democrats' support for Prop. 19 dropped by seven to nine percentage points between Sept. 2010 to Oct. 2010, the Field Poll noted. In that span of time, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder informed the state that federal marijuana bans would be "vigorously enforced" if California went legal. But his rhetoric changed dramatically by 2012, saying nothing about bans in Colorado and Washington or this year in Alaska, Oregon, and D.C.

This isn't about assigning blame (although Brown, Harris, Holder, and Newsom certainly did their bit to keep cannabis prohibition active). The message here is that California's Democratic voters actually listen to their leaders and maybe even vote based on what the bigwigs are saying.

For many activists, medical marijuana was seen as a stopgap, a "good enough" measure to ease the drug war somewhat while they worked behind the scene to make legalization happen. Some 18 years later, California remains in that gray area.

Unless Democrats get on board, it could be even longer before it finally happens.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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