California legalization by the numbers

With the marijuana legalization vote coming up in November, I’m hearing some people say that it’s practically a sure thing — after all, the logic is there, and everybody in California smokes pot already.

Well, I thought I’d take a little more realistic look at what reformers are facing.

Caveat: I’m no expert in voting trends or California, so this is not intended to be anything definitive; rather it’s a set of points to consider, or a jumping-off point for further discussion.

The latest Gallup poll shows 44% of Americans support legalization — an all-time high — and in the west, that number goes up to 53%. Not bad, but far from a sure thing.

While it’s certainly an over-simplification, there’s some truth to the notion that those who have tried marijuana at some point in their lives are more likely to be sympathetic to legalization (since they realize first hand that much of the hype is false). So let’s take a look at those numbers.

Pacific West Marijuana use (2008 SAMHSA)

Age 18-25 Age 26 and over
Lifetime 50.0% 45.5%
Past Year 30.7% 9.2%
Past Month 17.5% 6.0%

Now, based on past use, 45-50% (lifetime use) may be sympathetic, but is that a powerful enough factor to actually get them out to vote in November? Uncertain. Past month is more of an indicator of strong motivation.

Now, let’s take a look at midterm voting trends.

Californians voting in 2006 election

Age Range Percent Voting
18-29 24.64%
30-44 41.67%
45-59 54.76%
60+ 67.21%

The old people are more likely to vote. The young people are more likely to support legalization.

Now the good news is that mid-term elections tend to have low turnout, so a motivated group getting out the vote can have a more significant impact. That could change, however, given the level of public interest in the financial woes of the state and the country, or if there is a hotly contested race for Congress.

But as you can see, it’s about far more than getting the marijuana enthusiasts to vote. (In fact, even within the marijuana enthusiasts, you may have to contend with the bottom-feeders who prefer to keep it illegal, either through financial interest or some misguided “I don’t want the government taxing my pot” nonsense.)

The key is going to be motivating the casually sympathetic (all those lifetime marijuana users who haven’t touched it in years and have kids of their own), and those who may not be sympathetic to marijuana use at all.

That probably means focusing on arguments that do not require an affinity of use, such as:

  • Economic value of legalization (reduced costs, increased tax revenue)
  • Practical value of regulation (age limits, place and time restrictions)
  • Reduction of violence (street and Mexico)
  • Environmental protection (illegal grows in public lands)
  • The Economic self-interest of those opposing legalization (law enforcement unions, prison guard unions, cartels, DEA, etc.)

Opponents will do everything they can to get us sidetracked arguing over whether marijuana is dangerous or not.

Given the cognitive distortion factor I’ve discussed before, it’s going to take a lot of repetition to get people to actually hear the right message. To begin with, there will be a lot of discussions like this:

Reformer: It’s time to stop giving in to the criminals and lobbyists at the drug war trough and begin the legal regulation of cannabis so we can take back control, set appropriate age limits, and de-fund the criminals. As a side benefit, we could also dramatically help the budget.

Listener: Marijuana bad.

Don’t get cocky. California is a tricky state and doesn’t fall in line in the ways that some people think. After all, it seemed a sure thing that if any state would protect gay marriage at the polls, it would be California, but the last election showed that to be a miscalculation.

“Your gun control policy doesn’t have anything to do with public safety, and it’s certainly not about personal freedom. It’s about, you don’t like the people who do like guns. You don’t like the people.” — Ainsley Hayes, “The West Wing”

I’m not quite sure how to say this, but there’s a sociological phenomenon that sometimes results in a backlash factor in situations where a type of social change becomes publicly visible. Let’s call it the “uppity” factor. “Good” people may say that they support rights for blacks/gays/potheads in general, but become annoyed when they become uppity — flaunting their blackness or gayness or dope-ness in public as if they were equals, rather than keeping it hidden behind closed doors where it belongs.

Let’s face it. California cannabis culture can appear uppity. That doesn’t mean that people should stop being who they are — that’s impossible (and wrong). But awareness of the phenomenon can help with strategy.

So, maybe “Free the Weed” and “Ganja Rulez” may not be the best slogans for the legalization movement. Public appearances by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition will have an extra powerful impact. People in suits going door to door will lend the movement credibility. Professional-looking printed materials that are well-designed (and proofed!), focusing on facts (preferably sourced), are essential. These are obvious things, but still important to remember.

Again, I’m no expert, and these are just some ruminations on what the California legalization effort may face. I’m sure others have thought this through even more thoroughly, but this might help get some discussions going. With enough effort and the right message, I think success is possible, but certainly not easy.

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33 Responses to California legalization by the numbers

  1. Brandon says:

    Yup, this all seems to be very true in the context of California. Proponents need to look professional and legit. Even though you would think cannabis legalization would get the youth to vote in November, it’s not a for sure thing. Proponents are going to have to convince parents that legalization is not a threat to their children, which it isn’t. Prohibition has turned our schools into black markets for drugs, especially weed, since that’s the youth’s drug of choice. No one hardly ever sells alcohol at school, why do you think that is? It’s because of regulation, and perhaps that it’s harder to transport.

  2. somedude says:

    One good argument for those that have used marijuana a few times in their life would be to point out how their life could have been different if they were ever arrested, or had a criminal drug record. Or how it would change the lives of their kids.

    Ask them, would they be better off if the laws today were enforced against them. Would society be better off if tomorrow we could magically enforce marijuana prohibition and give 50% of the population a criminal record?

  3. Dano says:

    From the time this initiative was first discussed many on the legalization side have said it wouldn’t likely pass. Think of it as an intro initiative to get the topic discussed and more palatable to the voting populous in general. It’s far more likely that a subsequent initiative would be able to garner the support necessary for legalization through the aid of this ground breaker.

    Myself, I hope it does pass, but if it does it’s going to be a close one. We are going to see government money and policing expending resources on the “no” side along with drug rehab and conservative groups (including some religious groups).

    We can probably expect the dragging out of victims of the War on Drugs as evidence of marijuana’s danger. Stories of people with lost motivation that can of course only be blamed on marijuana’s evil influences.

    Gonna be an ugly, but interesting battle in the coming months! Pete’s gonna have alot of article material popping up soon!

  4. Ed Dunkle says:

    If nothing else it’s going to be great political theatre.

    And I agree that LEAP is the mightiest arrow in our quiver. I’m going to support them as much as I can.

  5. cityrain says:

    Ok…here we are…

    Our jails are absolutely full to the brim.

    We spend in America on average over $50,000 for each inmate we house…do the the numbers folks.

    1.5 million are in prison for non-violent crimes…about half are ‘pot’ related.

    Lets do the math:
    750,000 prisoners times $50,000 dollars…is this whole prohibition really worth it?

    $37.5 billion dollars a year….2 years is $75 billion dollars.

    Families are torn apart…for a substance that can be harmlessly baked into cookies,
    that makes you mellow,
    causes you to become hungry,
    and makes you sleepy if you do too much.

    Give me a break will ya?

  6. Rick J. says:

    Though I’m not in California, I’m following this closely. The laws there, as well as the experiences, help to shape what takes place elsewhere regarding this subject.

    From what I’m seeing, at least based on news stories, reports, on forums, and on blogs, is that people are, by and large, ‘professional’ about this. The banter of the stereotypical stoner seems to be outweighed by civil discussion, even on popular social sites where childish attitudes tend to be a dominant force (, for instance). Maybe it’s because many marijuana users are now ‘grown up’… not sure, but it seems that a lot of people are taking this issue seriously. In reality, this is a serious issue. It’s not about getting high — it’s about freedom that we should have.

    I haven’t used marijuana since 1997, but I’m for its legalization completely. While it may not be the norm, when I was a kid, it was easier to get pot and even acid than alcohol and cigarettes. From my perspective, its regulation that makes it more difficult to come by for kids and teens, but it could just be the crowd I hung out with, too.

  7. Tim says:

    Don’t forget, too, that a strategy that can be employed by the prohibs would be to fan the flames of the “stereotypical stoner” position to give them a convenient straw man to knock down.

    Proponents need to keep this in mind when recruiting helpers. The cops would love nothing more than to insert an agent provocateur into the Yes side to cause trouble. I’m sure they are aware of this.

  8. joeschmeaux says:

    When marijuana is legalized, we will save money spent on enforcement, prosecution, defense, incarceration, and marijuana itself. Money which is spent on pot and its production will no longer go untaxed, underground, or across the border. Many small time growers will go out of business, have to find real jobs and pay taxes. Doing so, they will contribute more to society than they do now. Most importantly, people’s lives will no longer be impacted by unfair fines and incarceration, and those who use pot will spend significantly less on it. For a fraction of the money we currently spend on enforcement, we will be able to offer cheap or free drug rehab to those who are in need and ready for it.

    Though nobody knows the actual figures, most people concede that the savings won’t be insignificant. Voters will use common sense when offered honest comparisons between legalization and what we have now. If the campaign for legalization presents honest ads which don’t sensationalize the issue, the undecideds will push legalization over the top.

    Then the shit will really hit the fan, as uptight conservatives around the country start whining profusely about how legalization in California will impact them and their states! But I predict that the Obama administration will stand idly by, watching the experiment work in California, and in relatively short order, many other states and eventually the feds will follow.

    Since prohibition creates a lucrative black market; since enforcement, prosecution and incarceration cost us a fortune; since users are pushed into financial ruin due to inflated prices; since not even the death penalty is a deterrent to drug use; and since more people die in the drug war than die of drug use, we should legalize all drugs.

    Let’s stop treating drug use as a criminal matter, take the inflated profit motive away from the gangsters, and start treating drug use as the health matter that it is.

  9. allan420 says:

    Prohibs are counting on low voter turnout. If California could turn out the vote (Oregon votes at almost 90% turnout, CA… maybe 60%?) they’d get this passed. Gotta fire up them voters!

  10. kaptinemo says:

    The money, the money, THE MONEY. Again and again and again. Emphasize the savings to the taxpayer, and point out that those taxpayers who’ve lost their jobs and are down on their luck and who really need the money aren’t getting it because so much is spent on the DrugWar that people have to go begging (and be held back by grandstanding legislators playing games in Congress) when their Unemployment runs out.

    And yes…leave the frakkin’ tie-dyes, sandals and beads at home.

    Flame me all you want, but I’ve been at this, on and off, for two decades, and I’ve seen the looks on the faces of those watching the Tube in public places and heard their comments when a segment on cannabis is on TeeVeeNooz and all the cameras show are gyrating, wild-eyed flakes. The sentiments expressed are universally negative…which is part of the reason why we’ve had such hard going all these years, as those amongst us, oblivious to the reactions they elicit in those ‘straights’, carry on like a bunch of idiots and give the opposition all the ammo they need.

    You want this to pass? You want that hobnailed jackboot off of your neck? Then, like as not, it’s ‘suit and tie’ time.

    Can’t bear to wear one? Then stay home, because others will happily endure the momentary discomfort to gain lasting peace of mind and recover a lost freedom. You can thank them later, after we win. Because this is too close, it’s our best chance to date, and we don’t need to frighten the easily spooked ‘straights’ with any bizarre dress and behavior guaranteed to do just that…which is just what the opposition is counting on, because, sometimes, we’re our own worst enemies.

  11. ezrydn says:

    Kap, Thank You!! People on our side just don’t seem to catch on to that fact. It’s not what YOU believe. It’s what THEY believe and your presentation, not only verbal, but visual, speaks volumes to THEM.

    To the “straight” voting public, when they see the tiedyes, sandles, beads, et al, they think “this visual representation is what we’re voting for?” rather than voting YES because it’s the right thing at the right time. Your “comfort” has caused one more person to vote NO. Is it really worth it? As the old saying goes, “It’s time for us to clean up our act!”

  12. Just me says:

    Excellent work Pete! Thank goes to Kap and EZ , you guys are nailin’ it! Excellent.

  13. BluOx says:

    I’m wondering about all those unfortunates (millions) that now have a criminal record because of the flower.Will the new law provide an amnesty.Lets not forget to EXPUNGE!

  14. kaptinemo says:

    EZ, I am forced to take the long view, courtesy of knowing the history of drug law reform only too well. That long view shows me where we went wrong, time after time.

    A very large part of the reason why we didn’t have decrim/legalization in the 1970’s was in part due to the antics of those who were in leadership position…and those who were not in a leadership positionm who would not set aside their personal predilections for counter-cultural behavior that antagonized and frighted those whose minds couldn’t accept differing life-styles. And unfortunately, such shutter-brained people are in the majority.

    So…we have to beat the culture warriors at their own game. Suit-and-tie, yes sir, yes ma’am, I’m a responsible cannabis user sick and tired of the enormous waste of taxpayer’s dollars involved in a fiscally wasteful and socially destructive prohibition. And we all know what happened we tried prohibition last time, don’t we?

    The voice of reason…coming from someone they’d normally never expect to hear it from, thanks to stereotypes. That kind of surprise works in our favor and makes the opposition red in the face, for what can they say?

  15. kaptinemo says:

    BluOx, I won’t stop there.

    I’m talking more than retrograde elimination of past arrest records for offenses based on drug laws that were themselves based upon racism and nothing more. I’m talking about more than regaining lost voting rights.

    I’m talking reparations. All the loot stolen thanks to forfeitures. Lost wages, lost careers, etc.

    Uncle Sam needs to be taught never, never EVER to try this prohibition crap again. And the only time the daft, bloody-minded old coot ever listens is when you hit him in the wallet.

  16. permanentilt says:

    So ironic, because when I see a bunch of guys in suits trying to convince me of something, I oppose it on principle. If a bunch of hippies in tye-dye, hemp, and Birks are behind it I’m far more likely to support. 😉

    But I get it, yeah suits and get-out-the-vote campaigns please! I am thinking about moving to Cali to do it myself. How long do I have to live in Cali to register?!?!

  17. BluOx says:

    Yeah ,I’m with you on that Kapt. And don’t forget ‘lost lives’,as in ‘vigil for’.UnkleSlim will never go for it. As for dress codes, be yourself… wholeheartedly, in moderation.

  18. kaptinemo says:

    Permanentilt, I see things in a similar way. I’m an engineer by trade, and you can always tell us Geeks from the Suits because of our not wearing a tie.

    I hate ties. Last vestige of a barbaric culture superimposed on modern times for the stupidest of reasons. The poor sods who have to wear one day in and day out don’t even frakkin’ know why. Wrapping a cloth around your neck to avoid sword slashes….serves exactly what purpose, today?

    But…if that’s what it takes, I’ll wear what is usually only brought out for job interviews and funerals, and put on the godawful ‘uniform’ of korp-rat kulture, if only to get this milestone passed. Then I’ll happily strip it off and go back to wearing what I usually do (khakis and striped shirt; I said I was Geek, didn’t I?). Almost anything to get this damn prohibition buried, as it should have been long ago.

  19. ezrydn says:

    What we have to remember here is to be aware when we’re “on view.” Neither Kap nor I nor anyone else is saying “suit and tie” from wakeup til sleep. You dress according to where you’re going to be active and “on view.” Many have waited over 40 years for this. Is waiting and dressing the part really that bad for such a short time it entails?

    One other thing you might consider is, when speaking with someone, find out quickly what their profession is. The reason is one I learned as a flight instructor. Ideas transfer much more readily if you can use terminology from THEIR backgrounds, not yours.

    This is a comical argument to a combat vet. It’s like the platoon arguing over which uniform they’re going to wear into the field. You wouldn’t wear khaki in the jungle and you wouldn’t wear OG in the desert. That is, unless you just want to be shot down.

    You don’t have to prove anything to us. It’s THEM you have to impress and visual reference will be their first impression. Blow that and they won’t hear a word you say.

  20. Dante says:


    You said: “I’m talking about more than regaining lost voting rights.

    I’m talking reparations. All the loot stolen thanks to forfeitures. Lost wages, lost careers, etc.”

    No offense, but that might be today’s version of wearing sandals, beads and tie-dye shirts. The “straights” won’t ever admit they were wrong. If we allow them to save face (& money!), they might offer support. If we seek punitve measures, the opposition may harden.

  21. Ned says:

    I think there is a very positively motivated hard core of 10%, then there is another fairly easy to to count in 20%. It is the next 21%+ that is going to be very very hard to get. For most people this is a HUGE leap. It takes quite a bit to get them to really execute that yes vote in the booth. This is a big change and a big change to something unknown is very scary. Especially because for most people this isn’t a personal issue. Even though society in general is affected by the drug war, most people have only a dim understanding of that, for the most part they buy the idea that “legality” actually defines reality. They think prohibition does control drugs, that it does protect minors, that cops are truthful and righteous.

    The problem is mostly ignorance. MOST people, average nonusing citizens still believe all or most of the big myths about cannabis. The high hurdle here is to get them to vote yes in spite of their beliefs. I’m not sure you can change those beliefs in this short of a time. It would take a massive and expertly executed TV campaign, many millions of dollars blanketing the airwaves, to drown out all the BS the other side is going to put out there. They only have to crank up the volume on all the existing lies and myths to create enough fear in say 5% of wavering voters to win. We have yes polling at 55%-60% going into election day to hope for a result of 51% coming out. Lots of people will choke in the booth, or will have lied to pollsters.

    Our side argues that prohibition doesn’t work and costs a lot, that legalization
    will generate tax money and save money too. Their response lately is that the costs of tobacco and alcohol exceed the revenues. Cannabis is safer than either of those so the comparison is fraudulent of course but they still say it and repeat it and the media let them. It is this kind of stuff we will have to counter.

  22. kaptinemo says:

    The “straights” won’t ever admit they were wrong. If we allow them to save face (& money!), they might offer support. If we seek punitive measures, the opposition may harden.

    No offense taken. Yes, I’ve thought about it too. Which is why I’ve toned down a lot of my rhetoric here and elsewhere.

    But…what has happened is something that cannot be slipped under the rug, as innocent people, some of them children, have been killed over this. Others have had their lives ruined…while fat-cat bureaucrats and political appointees and LE organizations have gotten quite flush off of our hard-earned taxpayer dollars…and they helped themselves to even more with forfeiture.

    An injustice so gross as this one has been allowed to be for as long as it has must be answered, not with a sock full of tapioca, but the legal equivalent of a baseball bat with a nail in it. There has to be a reckoning, or THIS WILL HAPPEN AGAIN.

    Because most people have very short memories, and even shorter attention spans. They’ll unthinkingly listen to the siren call of the prohibs (Hell, there’s crazy people arguing for a return of alcohol Prohibition!) unless it is made perfectly clear we will never allow our freedoms to be abridged again. And that there will be a price to be paid for listening to that siren song and trying to strip the citizens of those freedoms.

  23. Just me says:

    I had a interesting conversation with an elderly lady today. I see her from time to time. She was talking bout things on the TEE TEE NOOZ. Then out of the blue she said” Did you hear they are trying to legalize marijuana in California?” (BING-MY LIGHT BULB CLICKED ON)

    I Asked her what she thought of it. She said she thought it was crazy and what did I think of it.(GOTTA LOVE THESE OPPORTUNITIES)

    I told her I would love to see it legal not only in Cali but, nation wide. Her eyes got big and ask”Why in gods name would you want that?”

    I started by saying theres almost no pyhsical addiction to it, not to mention there are valuable medical uses for it and theres a ‘POSSIBILITY’ of it being able to be used to treat or kill cancer cells.

    Now I know some of you may be thinking I went off on a cure all rant. NO i didnt, I know it isnt and wouldnt.But I explained the Shaffer commision ,nixons war on drugs, the fact that prohibition makes drugs very valuable/reasoning for the terrible loss of life in Mexico and a few other FACTS we all know.

    She came back with suprise on many of my FACTS. Told her these facts are well known. She asked why one wouldnt get addicted to the high content of nicotine in marijuana? I ask where she heard there was nicotine in it, She said the news from government on tv. I explained nicotine was made by cig comanies and put in cigs only, marijuana doesnt naturally have nicotine. “OHHHH!” The light went on in that head. I explained what happened to my father when he died of cancer and how medical marijuana could have helped with his pain and loss of appetite. She asked why there werent human studies and tests. I told her government wont allow it and keeps it illegal.We need to reschedule it and get government out of the way. She said” Well for gods sake , it needs to be legal then!”

    My job is done today. 🙂 To bad I dont live in Cali where this conversation really could have helped.

  24. allan420 says:

    At this point reparations remains as a discussion among us. That there needs to be at least acknowledgemnt for that litany of drug war deaths, is not negotiable, after that we’ll see. When we get there…

    But that folks like Donald Scott’s wife (she used to cruise the wwweb on occasion), the family of Capt Odom and her crew and all the rest – including the wrongful LE deaths – should remain unspoken (except by us) is utterly catastrophic. As our media continues to catch on to what we’ve been pounding them with since forever, we in turn need to keep ratcheting up our rhetoric. We need extreme positions, if only as the sharpened points of our movement. Had we not had folks that initially raised (and maintained) the reparations issue or stood adamant for the “legalize all drugs” position, we would not be where we are today. The attachment of LEAP’s core criminal justice folks with us smot poking couch potato DPR types was inevitable and made us that more potent a force to be reckoned with.

    The wwweb is and has been our domain, one which we’ve held the high ground on since it’s Al Gore beginnings… there is a reason we discuss publicly and they don’t. We need to continue wielding that reason (and reasoning) like the vorpal blade it is. Snicker snack, as the fella said…

  25. Just me says:

    …..And weild that vorpal blade we will Allan…

  26. ezrydn says:

    Just so you’re prepared when the “testing” questions arise, Google “Granny Storm Crow.” Get the list!! Mine’s in my phone now.

  27. allan420 says:

    ez… Granny’s is the best compilation out there!

  28. ezrydn says:

    allen… You got the 2-DVD set? Great historical library. Also FREE!

  29. Carol says:

    Women are the wildcard group in all of this. Scared for their kids, scared of the drug violence in the community, prohibs have an in. I would emphasise the over 21 legalization angle-if you can drink scotch in the privacy of your own home as a taxpaying adult, why can’t you fire up a joint? Keeping pot illegal for over 21 year olds makes it even more likely it gets into the hands of underage users because there are no incentives for dealers to refrain from selling to teenagers. Licensed and legalized pot would be sold by people who have to comply with the law-and those people would also have to be over 21 as well. Those kids on the corner or in the school gym would have to find another form of work.

    I’d also emphasize the public safety angle. To free up room for pot sellers and smokers, somebody who should stay in jail gets out a little early, or gets supervised a little less while out because the probation and parole burden is so heavy. Take the pot people off the list, and those people in and out of jail who need to be watched closely get watched closely.

    California’s experience with medical mj should help. Those people are peaceful and law-abiding (except for pot laws), are clearly adults uninterested in selling/distributing to children, and are overall not disruptive to peace and order of the communities they live in.

    The money angle is important as well. Whatever your opinion is of pot, is it worth it spending scarce dollars to prosecute people who partake of a drug that is more likely to make people passive, relaxed? Who when high are of little danger to the community?

  30. Drifter says:

    I believe that many federal employees (working in California) whose positions are not considered sensitive and which in turn exempts them from the required random drug testing are cannabis users themselves. Maybe the fear of being busted by a local cop and having the police forward the arresting report to OPM (Office of Personnel Management) and ultimately costing them their careers might persuade them to vote for legalizing cannabis.

  31. Micah Daigle says:

    Nailed it, Pete. As a Californian in the thick of it, I 100% agree with your assessment.

  32. Jose says:

    The way to defeat the bill would be to distribute marijuana on the day of the election.

    The stoners would then forget to vote.

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