SAN FRANCISCO – Californians heeded warnings of legal chaos and other dangers and rejected a ballot measure Tuesday that would have made their state the first to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The spirited campaign over Proposition 19 pitted the state’s political and law enforcement establishment against determined activists seeking to end the prohibition of pot.
It was by far the highest-profile of the 160 ballot measures being decided in 37 states. Other topics included abortion, tax cuts and health care reform.
On a night of conservative advances in much of the country, Massachusetts voters spurned a chance to cut their taxes — rejecting a proposal to lower the state sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent. Critics said the cut would have forced the state to slash $2.5 billion in services, including local aid to cities and towns.
In Colorado, voters decisively defeated an anti-abortion “personhood” amendment — similar to one rejected in 2008 — that would have given unborn fetuses human rights in the state constitution.
California’s marijuana proposal would have allowed adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, consume it in nonpublic places as long as no children were present, and grow it in small private plots. It would have authorized local governments to permit commercial pot cultivation, as well as the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.
Proponents pitched it as a sensible, though unprecedented, experiment that would provide much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped state, dent the drug-related violence in Mexico by causing pot prices to plummet, and reduce marijuana arrests that they say disproportionately target minority youth.
However, every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor and all but a handful of leading politicians came out against it.
“Today, Californians recognized that legalizing marijuana will not make our citizens healthier, solve California’s budget crisis, or reduce drug-related violence in Mexico,” said the White House drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske.
Instead, he said, legalization would lead to more addiction, driving accidents and emergency room admissions.
Federal officials also said they would have continued enforcing laws against marijuana possession and sales had the measure passed.
Prop 19 supporters blamed the outcome on the older, more conservative leanings of voters who participate in midterm elections and pledged to try again in two years.