California voters declined to make their trendsetting state the nation’s first to legalize marijuana use and sales, heeding warnings of legal chaos and that pot smokers would get behind the wheel and show up to work while high.
The legalization effort was losing by nine percentage points with more than two-thirds of precincts reporting. Backers showed support for the measure by gathering outside the campaign’s headquarters to watch returns come in – some of them lighting up joints to mark the occasion.
Supporters of Proposition 19 blamed Tuesday’s outcome on the conservative leanings of older voters who participate in midterm elections. They also acknowledged that young voters had not turned out in sufficient numbers to secure victory, but said they were ready to try again in two years.
“It’s still a historic moment in this very long struggle to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Project. “Unquestionably, because of Proposition 19, marijuana legalization initiatives will be on the ballot in a number of states in 2012, and California is in the mix.”
Tim Rosales, who managed the No on 19 campaign, scoffed at that attitude from the losing side.
“If they think they are going to be back in two years, they must be smoking something,” he said. “This is a state that just bucked the national trend and went pretty hard on the Democratic side, but yet in the same vote opposed Prop 19. I think that says volumes as far as where California voters are on this issue.”
The campaign pitted the state’s political and law enforcement establishment against determined activists. Images of marijuana leaves and smashed-up cars and school buses appeared in dueling ads during the campaign.
In a sign of what a tough sell it was, an exit poll conducted for The Associated Press showed opposition cutting across gender and racial lines, as well as income and education levels.
The ballot measure lost in the state’s vaunted marijuana-growing region known as the “Emerald Triangle” of Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties. Many in the region feared the system they have created would be taken over by corporations or lose its purpose.