Despite Election Day loss, Proposition 19 campaigners battle on
on November 3, 2010
“The move to end marijuana prohibition is far stronger this morning than it ever has been,” said Stephen Gutwillig, the California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, as members of the Yes on 19 campaign gathered at their headquarters in downtown Oakland early Wednesday following the initiative’s defeat, garnering only 46.1 percent of the vote. “This morning we may be disappointed,” said Gutwillig. “We are not discouraged. We are certainly not defeated. In fact, we are emboldened.”
Gutwillig was joined by the other four faces of Proposition 19—Jeffrey Jones and Richard Lee, who co-wrote the initiative, Jones’ wife Dale Jones who is the spokesperson for the Yes on 19 campaign, and Dan Rush, special operations director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 5—as they sat behind a brown folding table, ready to face the media. The group told the press that this was the beginning, not the end, of their campaign to legalize recreational pot in California and elsewhere.
Also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, or the Marijuana Legalization Initiative (2010), Proposition 19 would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California, allowing people to legally possess one ounce or less of pot for personal use. The initiative collected a total of 3,412,387 votes.
“We got more votes than Meg Whitman and she spent over $140 million,” said Lee at the press conference, “so we can feel good about that.”
The Proposition 19 campaign had limited finances and was primarily bankrolled by Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, his mother Ann Lee said Tuesday after an Election Day rally. An infusion of $1 million, donated by George Soros, a billionaire from Hungary, came a little too late to have an impact, according to Gutwillig.
Jeffrey Jones noted Proposition 19’s losses in the “Emerald Triangle”—Humboldt, Trinity and Mendocino counties, which are the top pot-producing counties in the country—and Los Angeles County. “We lost this race by 550,000 votes,” Jeffery Jones said.
An initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use previously appeared on the California ballot in 1972—then also called Proposition 19. Supporters of this year’s proposition said they hoped the state was “ready” to legalize pot, but acknowledged that midterm elections pose challenges for campaigners. “We knew that this would be an uphill battle from the get-go,” Gutwillig said. “This is a midterm election cycle. There are fewer voters, older voters, more conservative voters, that make up a midterm electorate. That does not necessarily indicate anything about the weakness of the initiative. Just that this was always going to be a challenging campaign.”
All at the table agreed that the biggest challenge they faced was the basic task of just getting their message out to the public. “It was just a matter of not being able to get the message out far enough, fast enough within this election cycle,” said Dale Jones, who is also the executive chancellor for Oaksterdam University. “It was largely the ‘no’s’ that were uninformed and misinformed. What we’ve learned through Prop. 19 is that there has been a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there.”
Proposition 19’s supporters said that their fight to legalize marijuana is in a better place now than it was before the campaign began. “Proposition 19 has permanently changed American politics,” Gutwillig said. “It has transformed the public dialogue and placed the issue of marijuana legalization in the mainstream of American politics, which is exactly where it belongs. The disaster of marijuana prohibition is coming to an end and last night will be seen as a historic turning point.”
Dale Jones closed out the press conference by extending an invitation to people to come learn more about legalizing marijuana for recreational use. “We will be here to teach you how to make it happen,” he said. “This is what we do. You will be hearing from us in the future rather soon.”
Image: From left: Founder of Oaksterdam University Richard Lee, Local 5 union representative Dan Rush, Yes on 19 spokesperson Dale Jones, Yes on 19’s legal co-chair Hanna Liebman Dershowitz and California director of the Drug Policy Alliance Stephen Gutwillig, took questions at a press conference Wednesday morning at Yes on 19 campaign headquarters in Oakland.
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