Marijuana Legalization Likely to Have Better Luck Next Time

Like Kevin Drum I think the 46% of the vote secured by the marijuana legalization initiative in California is a pretty good number. And it makes me bullish on the near-term future of pot legalization out west if people draw the right lessons from the 2010 experience. First and foremost among them would be that you need to schedule this vote to coincide with a general election when young people will vote. The theory that putting Prop 19 on the ballot would drive youth turnout up was cute, and perhaps even worth trying, but as best we can tell absolutely nothing changes the fact that young people don’t vote in midterms:

Several other considerations made 2010 an unpromising year. The first is that bad economics times make people less socially tolerant. Many older white people in this country are in practice torn between libertarian and cranky authoritarian strains of rightwing politics, and the recession has brought out the cranky in spades. Relatedly, obscenely wealthy libertarians spent the 2010 cycle at something like a maximum level of illusionment with the Republican Party. In 2006 or 2008 a lot of donors would have been looking to give to a cause like this who instead in 2010 were more invested in conventional politics.

Last but not least, Prop 19 was hampered by a severe lack of elite validators. Democratic officeholders and candidates largely didn’t want to touch it. But a 46 percent showing indicates that this is hardly political kryptonite. I don’t expect risk-averse politicians (i.e., politicians) to leap to get behind the cause en masse, but these results show that if you’re interested in taking a mildly bold step in order to stand out from the pack the downside risks here really aren’t so terrible.

Long story short, pre-election I thought of this as a totally quixotic undertaking but it now looks to me like it could realistically happen in the short-term if people organize for a presidential election year. Running the play again in 2012 might just disgust people so maybe 2016 would be the better target year. Or else maybe 2012 in a different state. Either way, I promise to be more engaged next time.

(Let me also add that government by ballot initiative is generally pernicious and that states would be well-advised to do away with it, but the ability to move forward on this kind of issue is one of the rare advantages to an initiative system so people should exploit it).