LOS ANGELES, CA -- Opponents of a California initiative that would legalize marijuana e-mailed an "emergency alert" to subscribers Oct. 26, noting they have a small lead in the polls but warning that a last-minute $1 million donation by George Soros to the "yes" side could swing the race.
Soros, the billionaire philanthropist who donates often to liberal causes, made the donation Tuesday, the same day the Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by him, "Why I Support Legal Marijuana." Californians already are voting on the proposal, known as Proposition 19, in early voting.
Soros' $1 million contribution to the Drug Policy Alliance dwarfs all previous contributions, particularly of the "no" side, and will allow the alliance to put ads on the air in the final days. The No on Proposition 19 campaign has relied on free media and not aired any ads, although the California Chamber of Commerce is spending $250,000 on radio ads urging a "no" vote.
"How much pot can a million dollars buy?" Tim Rosales, campaign manager for the No on Proposition 19 campaign (NoOnProposition19.com), wrote. "... If we don't raise enough money right now, recreational marijuana will be coming to your workplace, schools, and highways -- just in time for Thanksgiving. Remember: every 45 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver. How often will someone be killed by a stoned driver?"
If Prop 19 passes, California would become the first state to legalize the growth, sale and use of recreational marijuana. Individuals would be able 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 be able to tax it; the state would not collect any money.
Three new polls on Oct. 26 showed Proposition 19 trailing, but there are indications that the race may be tighter than some polls show. That's because the polls in which voters talk to an actual person show a significant lead for Prop 19 opponents, while computer automated polls that tell voters to press their keypad indicate a toss-up race. Voters may be less likely to tell a stranger on the phone they support marijuana legalization. That seemed to be the case in the latest batch of polls, in which two computer polls -- by Public Policy Polling and SurveyUSA -- showed Prop 19 losing narrowly, 48-45 percent and 46-44 percent, while a Suffolk University poll that used live interviewers showed Prop 19 losing handily, 55-40 percent. Two polls in recent days that used live interviewers showed Prop 19 losing by 5 and 12 points.
Meanwhile, the Fresno Bee has questioned the claims of a Yes on Prop 19 television ad featuring San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, an outspoken supporter of marijuana legalization. In the 30-second ad, McNamara claims the "war against marijuana has failed" and he says legalizing it will "allow police to focus on violent crimes, and put drug cartels out of business." The ad, the Bee said, "cites disputed details as facts."
"U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the government will 'vigorously enforce' federal marijuana laws in California if Proposition 19 passes," the Bee wrote. "He noted that any retail establishment selling recreational pot would be admitting to a federal crime by the very act of paying taxes. A Rand Corp. study said legalization of marijuana in California would do little to cripple Mexican drug cartels. Rand researchers said there was only one highly unlikely scenario for hurting the cartels -- if massive numbers of Californians and pot-seeking tourists begin smuggling Golden State weed across the United States."
Although McNamara touts his law enforcement expertise, the Fresno Bee notes Prop 19 "is opposed by all major police groups, including the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotics Officers Association."
Chris Clark, pastor of East Clairemont Southern Baptist Church in San Diego, opposes Prop 19 and says biblical commandments not to get drunk, as found in Ephesians 5:18, apply to marijuana.
"Setting aside the debate on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes for another discussion, there is only one objective for the recreational use of marijuana," Clark told Baptist Press. "That is to get high, stoned, loaded, baked or otherwise impaired. It is to alter one's consciousness to a level that is not safe -- for others as well as oneself.
"Paul urged the believer to 'be filled with the Spirit.' ... Now when one has the opportunity to fill up the very core of your being with the real reason for living, why would anyone want to fill his body and mind with funny-smelling smoke that merely masks over the empty promises of this world?"
Opponents of Prop 19 warn its passage would:
-- ban pre-employment marijuana testing, which could impact the public by affecting bus companies, airlines and other public transportation. The text of Prop 19 says employers can take action on employees only if it can be proven an individual's pot smoking "impairs job performance."
-- allow workplace marijuana smoking breaks.
-- increase the number of drugged drivers on the road. Prop 19 forbids the consumption of marijuana by drivers while the car "is being operated" but permits marijuana consumption before a person drives. There is no alcohol-type breathalyzer test for marijuana. Also, passengers would be allowed to smoke pot while the car is moving.
-- create a black market for cheaper marijuana.
-- allow residents to grow marijuana plants in their back or front yards, all with the protection of state law. An individual's marijuana crop must be no bigger than 25 square feet.
-- increase drug trafficking elsewhere, particularly into other states where marijuana is not legal.
-- increase the amount of in-state crime and necessary law enforcement. Police officers opposed to Prop 19 say that as the number of marijuana users increases, crime by those under the influence will increase.
-- increase the number of teen users. After Alaska's Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that individual possession of marijuana was legal, teen use of pot rose to more than twice the national average, despite the fact teens still were prohibited under law to smoke it. This year, the federal government's annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health showed that teen marijuana usage was up in 2009, with 7.3 percent of teens (ages 12-17) saying they had used marijuana in the past month, compared to 6.7 percent in 2008. The report also said the overall drug usage rate was up -- a stat it said was driven largely by an increase in marijuana usage.