The Proposition 19 campaign, which was previously losing allies either over particular provisions of the bill, or over internecine disagreements within its own ranks about which pieces of the bill were most important, has suddenly kicked into high gear and begun winning allies back. A new PPP poll shows the Proposition winning the California electorate by nearly a double digit margin, Although undecided voters number at a whopping 14%, suggesting that the battle is not over regarding the controversial bill, the clear enthusiasm gap on behalf of marijuana legalization could easily be seen as an outlier in an otherwise conservative trending election cycle.
That is, if the bill hadn’t also started to attract conservative support, on top of its libertarian and liberal supporters, as well. Last week, Rasmussen Reports commentator and California-based conservative columnist Debra J. Saunders penned an article entitled “End Prohibition,” in which she trotted out a laundry list of reasons why prohibition as a concept in general, and its application to marijuana, had been a dismal failure. Saunders wrote:
“’In almost every respect imaginable, Prohibition was a failure,’ former New York Times public editor Daniel Okrent concluded at the close of his new book, "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition." "It encouraged criminality and institutionalized hypocrisy. It deprived the government of revenue, stripped the gears of the political system, and proposed profound limitations on individual rights."
"America's laws against marijuana have had similar effect. About 40 percent of Americans have tried the weed. In March, the Partnership for a Drug Free America reported that 38 percent of ninth- through 12th-graders studied in 2009 reported consuming marijuana in the past month.”
But Saunders wasn’t finished. In a simultaneously melancholy and blistering coda, she effectively conceded the argument over marijuana legalization to its supporters:
“What is the benefit? To decrease the chance of kids using drugs - by what, 1 percent? - the public for years has backed laws that fuel criminal practices.
Two years before repeal of Prohibition, smart people were convinced that Prohibition would never be overturned. Its author proclaimed that there was as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there was for a hummingbird to fly to Mars "with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.
Okrent told me he didn't know he was for Prop. 19 until he started promoting his book. "People are going to consume this stuff," he told me. It's just that simple. That's why the law doesn't work."
This set of reasons for supporting the bill may suggest something fundamentally interesting about where the Proposition 19 battle is going – namely, that it is moving beyond simple notions of Right vs Left into a framework where the new, libertarian-leaning Tea Party version of the Right can feel comfortable endorsing a bill with limited application and limited reach just to try an experiment in the removal of government power. If so, it will be one of the more dramatic paradigm shifts in recent California political history, if not national political history in general.
The irony, of course, is that while the bill does contain provisions that have put it at odds with more purist libertarian figures, as well as purist pro-drug legalization advocates, these provisions appear to have been sufficient to win new support from conservatives. Whether that support will harden, or remain a temporary trend, remains to be seen.