As voter sentiments tighten in the weeks leading up to the election, California voters are revisiting the issue of legalization of marijuana for commercial use as a means to bolster depressed county tax revenues.
Speaking with my friends and family over the past week I sense a mood swing in my home state. Voters from San Diego to Redwood are fueling speculation that Proposition 19, the ballot measure to decriminalize marijuana and make it a legal cash crop subject to commercialization and taxation, might actually pass in November.
Oddly enough it is the conservative element of the vote that is driving the dialogue.
“We have so many financial issues here that would simply go away by making pot legal and taxing the heck out of it,” one of my friends and colleagues said. Visions of pot tours and California’s potential entry to the tourism spotlight as the “New Amsterdam” spun through my head.
Certainly the infrastructure and the agriculture exists, as it has for decades particularly in the counties of Northern California. Here informal “cannabis tours” – similar to the wine country tours of Napa and Sonoma counties – have drawn a quiet stream of tourists over the years. Even though the welcome mats and signage aren’t visible, most people can find package deals to some of the nation’s best “Humboldt” weed if they look for it. And despite county eradication programs which peaked in the mid-80s and early-90s, Humboldt county agricultural officials do look at marijuana beyond simply medicinal purposes and as a statistic field crop.
“It is the biggest field crop in the county you aren’t supposed to know about,” one friend and alumnus of Humboldt State University stated plainly.
With such an economic, environmental, and social potential for Proposition 19 on the upside, voter sentiments though have shaken in recent weeks. One recent Los Angeles Times poll indicated that the voter sentiment has shifted against Proposition 19, led largely by Latino voters and conservative social views on the acceptable use of marijuana. This after earlier in the month a prominent Latino group issued an endorsement of Proposition 19 and then seemingly withdrew its support. With less than two weeks before the election, Proposition 19 advocates are scrambling to get the message out and hanging on to a 52% voter approval lead.
But I go back to my conservative friends and the economic interest that looks at decriminalization of marijuana and consider that the real target for Proposition 19 supporters is not the traditional liberal political base. Those voters have been behind decriminalization for years. The real opportunity for Proposition 19 supporters is the economic conservative voter who looks to eliminate the criminal element of the black market inside the state and use tax revenues and regulations to keep schools open and fund emergency room hospital visits and other embattled health services needs. They are the real wild card in this November 2 vote. Pull enough of the middle-center and economically conservative voters and there could indeed spring up a New Amsterdam and with it an economic boost that the Golden State so desperately needs.