SACRAMENTO --- In a landmark night for opponents of drug legalization, a California measure that would have legalized marijuana's recreational use was defeated, as apparently were all three measures in other states related to pot's medicinal use.
It easily was the most successful election night to date for opponents, who had seen a string of states -- 14 in all -- legalize medicinal marijuana since the mid-1990s. Nine of those legalized it via ballot initiative, and only once had opponents defeated a medicinal marijuana proposal.
The win in California was easily the most significant one. Proposition 19, which would have made California the first state to legalize the growth, sale and use of recreational marijuana, lost, 54-46 percent, capping an impressive comeback victory for the "no" side, which trailed in every poll in September.
South Dakota Initiated Measure 13, which would have legalized medicinal marijuana, lost 63-37 percent, while Arizona Proposition 203, which also would have legalized medicinal pot, was trailing by about 6,700 votes with 99.8 percent of the precincts counted. In Oregon, Measure 74, which would have expanded the current medicinal law to allow farmers to grow marijuana and dispensaries to sell it, lost, 57-43 percent.
The California race, though, was the most closely watched ballot initiative nationwide. Supporters hoped that Prop 19's passage would have a ripple effect nationwide and eventually lead to marijuana's legalization in all 50 states. They may try again in 2012, not only in California but in other states, but the debate over Prop 19 showed that opposition to drug legalization is bipartisan.
Every major Republican and Democrat candidate -- including both Democratic senators and every GOP candidate for major office -- opposed Prop 19, as did every major newspaper editorial board. President Obama's Justice Department also spoke out against it.
Opponents warned Prop 19's passage would have led to a host of negative effects on the state: an increase in marijuana's usage among teens and young adults, an uptick in drugged drivers and road deaths, an increase in crime statewide, and a ban on pre-employment marijuana testing. Opponents said marijuana in the workplace would have had a devastating impact on public safety, leading to "stoned" doctors and nurses, bus and train drivers and even airplane pilots.
"Prop 19 provided no regulation or control, no means of collecting revenue, no benefit to the public safety of Californians and could cost us billions," No on Prop 19 campaign manager Tim Rosales said in a statement.
Prop 19 would have allowed individuals to grow their own marijuana in an area not larger than 25 square feet and possess up to one ounce of it. Local governments would have been able to tax it, although the state would not have collected any money.
The state's churches and conservative groups also stood against Prop 19, not wanting to see California set another negative social trend.
"California has long been considered a bastion of liberal thinking and behaviors, but on a night when conservatives lost both the governor's and senate races, California voters turned away a bid to legalize recreational marijuana use," Montia Setzler, pastor of Magnolia Avenue Baptist Church, Riverside, Calif., told Baptist Press.
"I am encouraged that once again the people of our state have sent a clear message that we do not want to fund the needs of the state of California by preying on the weaknesses of people living here," Setzler said. "Whatever gains in tax revenue that could have been accomplished by passing Proposition 19 would certainly be lost in the cost of legitimizing a gateway drug for the next generation."
Setzler added, "The cost of decreased production among recreational users in the workforce would far outweigh any temporary boon in tax revenue. We hope that the failure of this measure in one of the most probable of all states to pass it will be a deterrent to the rest of the country to even attempt this move in their state."
SafeCalifornia.com, one of California's top pro-family groups, assisted churches with bulletin inserts and a powerful anti-Prop 19 video.
"Parents and grandparents who care deeply about the minds and bodies of their kids and grandkids are breathing a great sigh of relief that marijuana legalization has gone up in smoke," Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, said in a statement.
"SaveCalifornia.com pulled out the stops to inform sensible Californians that marijuana legalization would harm children, families, neighborhoods, public safety, road safety, and jobs," Thomasson said. "We also reminded people of faith what the Bible teaches: that they ought to love their neighbor, protect children from being led astray, and oppose drunkenness or intoxication."
South Dakota voters said "no" to medicinal marijuana for the second straight time, having defeated a similar measure in 2006 by a much smaller margin. Initiated Measure 13, if passed, would have required individuals to have a doctor's permission and to register with the South Dakota Department of Health before obtaining marijuana. The individual would have been able to grow the marijuana or designate someone else to grow it. That designated person, too, would have been required to register with the department of health.
"The majority of Americans still understand that making dangerous drugs more accessible will increase our nation's drug problems," Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press. "I'm sure South Dakotans want to act as compassionately as possible for those suffering with physical ailments, but they are right to suspect the validity of the claims made by the proponents of medical marijuana, and they are also right in their determination not to increase the exposure of the rest of the population of their state to the destructive effects of marijuana."
Duke said Prop 19's loss in California was significant, but isn't the end of the debate.
"The legalization effort in California was a bridge too far even for the people of California," Duke said. "The 54-46 vote, however, is certain to encourage supporters to come back again. It is imperative that our churches continue to help people understand the dangers of marijuana so that we can turn back every future effort as well."
Opponents of medicinal marijuana in Arizona and South Dakota made several arguments, including saying its legalization is unnecessary because an FDA-approved drug, dronabinol (sold as Marinol), contains THC, the primary psychoactive chemical in marijuana. They also said the law would be abused, and they pointed to California and Montana -- two states where medicinal marijuana is legal -- as examples.
Marijuana is easily accessible in California, even for those who are not experiencing severe pain, experts in the state say. The law lists a series of specific ailments that can be aided by medicinal marijuana and then adds a giant loophole allowing medicinal marijuana usage for "any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."
In Montana, between 2008 and 2010, the number of citizens registered to use medicinal marijuana jumped from 842 to nearly 20,000, the Associated Press reported. Just as troubling: 25 percent of medicinal marijuana users in Montana are between the ages of 21 and 30, and Missoula and Bozeman -- both home to universities -- have the highest percentage of users, AP reported.