By "Radical" Russ Belville
You won't find the word "legalization" in Prop 19... but you will find "It is LAWFUL to possess and cultivate marijuana"
After viewing the Prop 19 “debate” at HempCon and battling many of these Stoners Against Legalization online, I’ve come up with some simple rhetorical tools for dealing with these terribly misguided individuals. Unfotunately, I feel like the YES campaign is making a mistake Democrats make in elections: depending on facts, logic, reason, and people voting for their own best interests.
This is an emotional issue and the NO side is doing a good job stoking fear, confusion, and anger.
They’re playing right out of Karl Rove’s handbook – demonize the opponent (“millionaire Richard Lee!”, “corporate megagrows in Oakland!”) and obfuscate the issues. Our side is fighting within the opponents frames of “Prop 19 vs. Prop 215″ and “corporate control of cannabis” instead of defining the issue as legalization and improvement over the Jim Crow aspects of Prop 215.
Here are my suggestions for attacking the anti-Prop 19 side, fighting their emotion with more powerful emotion, attacking their strengths and using it against them, and redefining the frames.
Begin any question you have for Anti-Legalizers with “I’m a healthy adult without a Prop 215 recommendation; can you tell me why…?” and then ask. For example:
-- “I’m a healthy adult without a Prop 215 recommendation; can you tell me why I should vote against being able to carry an ounce of marijuana on my person?”
-- “I’m a healthy adult without a Prop 215 recommendation; can you tell me why I should vote against being able to grow marijuana in my house?”
-- “I’m a healthy adult without a Prop 215 recommendation; can you tell me why I should vote to keep the risk of getting a criminal misdemeanor record for smoking pot?”
Almost all of their complaints come from the “Prop 19 destroys Prop 215″ myth they’ve been pushing. So hamstring that by pointing out you’re not a Prop 215 patient and neither are 80%-90% of California’s cannabis consumers.
Next, when the Stoner Against Legalization goes into the thicket of “Under Prop 215 this and that is legal and Prop 19 will make it illegal…” you simply respond with:
“Wow, those sound like powers that (LA District Attorney) Steve Cooley and (San Diego District Attorney) Bonnie Dumanis would love to have… so how come they’re asking people to vote NO?”
Hammer on the point that a NO vote on Prop 19 allies you with the cops, prison guards, drug dealers, drug traffickers, enemies of Prop 215 like Cooley, Trutanich, Dumanis, Brown, and Feinstein. ”If Prop 19 does everything you say to Prop 215, why doesn’t Steve Cooley support it?”
When a Stoner Against Legalization tells you about some terrible prediction of life after Prop 19, you can respond with “So that’s why we need to keep arresting and locking people up for marijuana, then?” Never let them off the hook on any of their points without forcing the audience to reconcile the point that a NO vote means “I am voting to keep myself a criminal.”
The Stoner Against Legalization may then try to steer the debate to the “But marijuana is virtually legal in California under Prop 215″ area. There are two quick replies to that notion. First:
“So why, exactly, have 77,000 Californians been arrested, tried, and convicted on marijuana charges in 2009 if marijuana is legal”
A side argument here from the Stoners Against Legalization is that the California legislature has passed a bill to downgrade possession of an ounce to a simple misdemeanor. The Anti-Legalizers will say, “it’s not even going to be a crime to possess an ounce anyway, it’s just a ticket like ‘flipping a U-ey’”. The proper response to that is, “So I should vote NO so I get a $100 ticket for an ounce and a felony for a plant, rather than making both of those things absolutely legal with no tickets or criminal record?”
Another response to the “marijuana is legal under Prop 215″ line is to use their own cause célèbres against them.
“So if Prop 215 makes medical marijuana legal, what were Felix Kha, Jovan Jackson, Donna Lambert, Eugene Davidovich, Charles Lynch, Craig X Rubin, et al doing in a California courtroom, losing their businesses, their net worth, and in some cases, their families?”
This pivots to the discussion that after 14 years of Prop 215, there still isn’t a definitive right to buy and sell cannabis. But you have to be careful here, because there is a huge emotional investment by Californians in Prop 215. The best way is selling Prop 19 as an improvement, not a replacement, for Prop 215. They’ll wail about the mentions of Prop 215 being in the Purposes and Intents and how those parts aren’t “codified into law”, but that’s easy enough to dismiss:
“The Purposes and Intents ARE used by the legislature to determine how the laws shall be interpreted. So if the intent says ‘Provide easier, safer access for patients who need cannabis for medical purposes’ it’s not going to possible for lawmakers to reconcile an interpretation that makes medical access more difficult and dangerous.”
Another place they’ll go to is talking about how wicked evil Oakland is licensing megagrows with $211,000 fees or how Rancho Cordova is planning on taxing grows at $600 per square foot. The solution here is to point out that’s happening NOW regardless of Prop 19, so a NO vote still means expensive grows in Oakland and Rancho Cordova, but without carrying an ounce and growing at home being legal.
“Prop 19 does not overturn or supersede Prop 215. #1) Its Purposes and Intents are to make medical access safer and easier. #2) It’s loaded with “Notwithstanding any other provision of law” clauses that mean “except where another law already makes something more legal” – like Prop 215. #3) All powers over cultivation given to localities specifically mention “commercial” purposes.”
This is especially important for the Rancho Cordova line. Hammer away at that one by pointing out that renegade pot-hating cities will try to tax grows out of existence and that is easier for them to do when you don’t have an explicit right to home grow. What they pass and what stands up after inevitable court challenges are two different things. Prop 215 activists will hit that $600/sqft as an unconstitutional infringement on medical rights and Prop 19 activists will hit it by pointing out Prop 19 only gives cities power to regulate commercial grows while explicitly defining the right to personal consumption and the right to grow 25 sqft for personal consumption.
The corollary of this point on the Stoners Against Legalization side is that none of the cities that hate dispensaries are going to approve retail sales once Prop 19 passes. ”Do you think San Diego, which doesn’t even believe in medical distribution, is going to allow recreational?” I’ve heard one of them say. The simple response:
“You mean like now? So because 1 or 2 or 12 or 40 cities might ban commercial marijuana, we should keep it like it is now where all 478 cities ban commercial marijuana?”
So San Diego may not approve recreational marijuana cultivation and sales… just like now. But you’ll still be able to possess your personal ounce in San Diego. You’ll still be able to grow your 25 sqft garden at home in San Diego. And if you really want to, like the Anti-Legalizers always say, you can always go get your Prop 215 recommendation and join a collective just like you can now.
Another facet to the argument is the Anti-Legalizers support of the status quo regarding the “small grower”. This is a powerful emotional meme because they conjure up the small-time family-man grower, forced by tough economic times to make a living growing and supplying to dispensaries, cloaked in all sorts of rebel-with-a-cause fight-the-man folklore. They’ll posit that meme vs. the big bad evil corporation meme.
Karl Rove would use his opponent’s strength as their weakness. Remember Sen. John Kerry, the thrice-decorated Vietnam war hero? That became his weakness once the Swift Boaters were through with him. So here’s how you “swift boat” the “pity the small grower” meme:
“Every dollar earned while marijuana is illegal equals some kid getting a misdemeanor, some mom doing jail time, or some dad being shot by a cop. I support any person who wants to make money growing marijuana, but not at the cost of 77,000 arrests in California every year. Prop 19 will allow cities – not Sacramento – to create commercial regulations. Why wouldn’t a city like, say, Ukiah, make regulations that best support their small grower economic base? That’s the cool thing about something being legal; if it’s not working properly, you can vote in new people and laws to make it work better. But if you vote no on 19, no city can do anything to support their small growers and Sacramento can still send helicopters and cops after them.”
This may lead to a response of “but the small grower can’t compete with the megagrows / corporations!” You can point out that Prop 19 allows any of those growers to form their own corporations; they could truly be a commercial collective of small growers big enough to compete with anybody. They would even have the cache of being “the little guys” and could market their wares as “boutique”, “hand-trimmed”, “home-grown”, “organic”, etc. and charge more than the megagrows. But if they persist on the “pity the small grower” meme, you can always take it back to:
“OK, so then we need to vote no on legalization and continue to arrest and lock up small growers for felonies because they can’t compete in a open legal market? Small growers can’t exist unless we subsidize their jacked-up prices by arresting 77,000 Californians per year, is that what you’re saying?”
Some miscellaneous rejoinders:
They say, “We’re for legalization; we’re just against Prop 19.”
“Prop 19 is legalization: it says “it shall be LAWFUL to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal consumption” and you are telling me to vote against that, so you’re against legalization.”
They say, “We should wait until 2012 when a better initiative will be on the ballot.”
“Prop 19 is on the ballot now. How many legalization votes were on the ballot in the past forty years? One, back in 1972. How much money have other legalization initiatives raised for 2012? Zero. How much support did these other initiatives get in the past dozen elections? Not enough to make the ballot. Besides, if a better initiative can make the ballot in 2012, it still can when Prop 19 passes. Vote yes on 19 now, and then go ahead and vote yes on the better initiative in 2012!”
They say, “This is written for lawyers and corporations to get rich!”
“Prohibition keeps lawyers in business defending people from marijuana crimes. And I’d rather see a legal taxpaying corporation making money in a competitive market where I’m allowed to grow my own than to see murderous Mexican drug trafficking organizations making money and cops making money when they bust me for growing my own!”
When they paint the picture that all of Southern California will be forced to drive up to buy from the overpriced megagrows in Oakland, call it out for the ridiculous assertion that it is:
“Yeah, I suppose if Prop 19 passes and Los Angeles refuses to allow commercial sales, everyone will have to drive to Oakland. That is, if people in LA don’t grow their own. And don’t have any friends who grow their own and share. And they don’t get Prop 215 recommendations to buy in dispensaries. And the black market sales of marijuana completely disappear. And none of the other 87 cities in Los Angeles County decide to allow commercial sales to beat LA to that thriving tax base and economic windfall. And all of the other 477 California cities but Oakland decide to forbid commercial sales. Sure. But even in that ridiculous worst case scenario, there will still be one legal place in California to buy marijuana and it will still be legal to carry an ounce of it anywhere in the state!”
Finally, deal with their ad hominem attacks – don’t underestimate how vicious lies and false characterizations can sink a campaign (c.f. Sen. John Kerry, 2004; Gov. Michael Dukakis, 1988). When they set up their attacks on “millionaire Richard Lee”, respond with:
“Wait, I thought you guys were supporters of patients and medical access under Prop 215? Last I checked, Richard Lee was a disabled patient in a non-motorized wheelchair whose Oaksterdam University and dispensaries have provided more medical marijuana to sick and disabled patients than all of you combined. Or are profits from medical marijuana only a good thing when you’re making them?”
I also like to throw in “Richard Lee is gambling $1.4 million of his own money to make you legal. How much of your money have you gambled to make me legal?”, but you need to judge the right audience for that dose of snark.